Buildings at Risk

Building at Risk is usually a listed building, or an unlisted building within a conservation area, that meets one or several of the following criteria:

  • vacant with no identified new use
  • suffering from neglect and/or poor maintenance
  • suffering from structural problems
  • fire damaged
  • unsecured and open to the elements
  • threatened with demolition

Policy & Legislation

The current laws and regulations surrounding day to day issues of buildings at risk, as with much of the provisions for the historic environment, lie within the area of Town and Country Planning legislation including, principally:

  • The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 with modifications by The Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2011;
  • The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997;
  • The Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Scotland) Order 1992 SSI 1992/224. From 3 August 2009 revoked (with savings) by the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure)(Scotland) Regulations 2008/432;
  • The Town and Country Planning (Listed Buildings and Buildings in Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (SSI 1987/1529); and
  • The Planning Etc. (Scotland) Act 2006.

A number of statutory powers are available to local planning authorities and Historic Environment Scotland, designed to protect the built heritage. Some of the most commonly exercised are explained below.

Building Preservation Notices can be served on unlisted properties, granting them the same protection as listed buildings for a period of six months whilst they are assessed for listing.

Urgent Works Notices can be served on vacant listed properties and allow the local planning authority to undertake emergency works such as the erection of supportive scaffolding or temporary roof structures.

Dangerous Building Notices can be served on both listed and unlisted properties, and require the owner to make safe or demolish a building that poses a threat to public safety. Repair Notices can be served on both listed and unlisted properties, and specify those works considered reasonable and necessary for the preservation of a building, along with a timescale within which these works should be completed. Failure to comply within the specified deadline may result in works being undertaken by the local planning authority, and a charge being made to the owner(s).

As a final measure, planning authorities can apply for a Compulsory Acquisition Order if there has been a continued failure to comply with Repair Notices served on a listed building. However, it should be noted that there is no statutory duty requiring planning authorities to implement any of the above.

Additionally, the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 introduced a statutory management scheme called the Tenement Management Scheme for all tenements in Scotland. It provides a structure for the maintenance and management of tenements if this is not provided for in the title deeds. The Tenement Management Scheme also contains default provisions on emergency repairs and the apportioning of costs. Under the Bill, a tenement will not only include typical tenement flats but also modern flat developments, high-rise tower blocks and villas which have been converted into two or more flats. It applies to commercial as well as residential properties. For further information, see The Scottish Government website.

Read more about legislative context and powers in the Buildings at Risk Toolkit.


The Buildings at Risk Toolkit
The Building st Risk Toolkit explores and guides on ways to tackle Scotland’s most endangered historic buildings. The Toolkit comprises a suite of texts on a range of matters relating to buildings at risk, each of which can be downloaded as PDF files.

The Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland – Frequently Asked Questions
The Buildings at Risk Register website answers many common queries about the Register and Buildings at Risk generally in it’s frequently asked questions page.

New Uses for Former Church Buildings (Scottish Civic Trust, 2006)
This publication displays the wide variety of potential adpative reuses of church buildings, touching upon the common issues related to the redundnacy and reuse of church buildings, with thematic case studies and an illustrated summary of 101 uses for a redundant church.

New Uses for Old Buildings (Scottish Civic Trust, 2010)
New Uses for Old Buildings examines some of the opportunities and challenges around the issues of re-use of older buildings with short features on four types: railway buildings; textile mills; doocots; country houses; and churches. Examples of successful restoration are provided with helpful guidance notes for owners or potential buyers.

Country Houses at Risk (Scottish Civic Trust, 2006)
This publication examines some of the issues surrounding the country house at risk.

Enabling Development and Heritage Assets (Historic England, 2020)
Enabling Development is development that would be unacceptable in planning terms but for the fact that it would bring heritage benefits sufficient to justify it being carried out, and which could not otherwise be achieved.

A typical example would be the construction of houses where planning policy would normally prohibit them, the profits from which would pay for repairs to a heritage asset. It is therefore commonly used in Buildings at Risk cases, where the cost of restoring a building which requires significant investment is greater than the building will be worth when restored.

There is currently no Scottish Government guidance on enabling development. Note this section of the Buildings at Risk Toolkit on Buildings at Risk and Enabling Development. 

Case Studies

Our views

These letters are examples of letters SCT has written in response to Listed Building Consent and Conservation Area Consent applications for Buildings at Risk.

Use them to help you frame your own comments on a planning application, and to better understand how historic environment policy and guidance can be used to support your comments. 

Restoration and refurbishment of Lathallan House + erection of 38 houses (June 2009)
The Trust comments on proposals to restore and reuse Lathallan House and its outbuildings which have been on the Buildings at Risk Register since 1994. The buildings are now in a near ruinous condition and significant investment will be necessary to ensure their long-term future. We accept that enabling development is appropriate in this case to ensure the survival of the listed buildings.

Planning permission was approved in Dec 2012 for the restoration of Lathallan House to form 9 flatted dwellings, demolition of laundry outbuilding, restoration and refurbishment of stables to form 3 dwelling houses and erection of 36 dwelling houses and associated works.

New Visitor Centre and alterations at Abbotsford House (June 2010)
The application notes the derelict stable block was considered, but rejected for the visitor centre due to high renovation costs.  We do not object to the proposed new Visitor Centre or the alterations to Abbotsford House, however, the Trust feels that a new use must be found for the stables as soon as possible and we would urge the Abbotsford Trust and Scottish Borders Council to pursue this with urgency. Permission was granted in 2010, and the Visitor Centre is now open. The Stables remain on the Buildings at Risk Register.

Former Odeon Cinema, Edinburgh (April 2011)
The Trust objects to the demolition of a former cinema in Edinburgh, where the rationale to demolish is based on the principle that the repair of the building is not economically viable and that it has been marketed at a price reflecting its location and condition to potential restoring purchasers for a reasonable period.  Permission to demolish was refused in 2011 and Historic Scotland revise the listing of the former cinema and upgrade it from category B to category A in 2012. After a partial re-opening of the former cinema in 2013,  No further works appear to be underway and the site remains on the Buildings at Risk Register.

Success Stories (see the Buildings at Risk Register website) 

Useful Links

Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland
The Buildings at Risk Register has been in operation in Scotland since 1990 in response to a concern at the growing number of listed buildings and buildings in Conservation Areas that were vacant and had fallen into a state of disrepair.

The Register is maintained by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) on behalf of Historic Scotland, and provides information on properties of architectural or historic merit throughout the country that are considered to be at risk.