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Heritage at Risk: Conservation Areas

Conservation areas are places in villages, towns and cities which are especially valued by local communities for their historic character and associations.

What makes them special is the combination of buildings, streets, spaces and archaeology, which we enjoy, work and live in.

Like other elements of our environment, they change over time, in both positive and negative ways.

Change in conservation areas can be negative, either through inappropriate new development, neglect or deliberate damage.

Negative change can have a real effect upon the way the community thrives or feels about their area. When conservation areas become at risk, this can signify or contribute to an area's social or economic decline.

Historic buildings at risk and modern shop fronts in Stoke Town conservation area
Stoke Town conservation area in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire is home to the former Spode pottery works. It is made up mainly of Edwardian and late Victorian commercial buildings. Poor property maintenance and vacant upper floors are a result of low property values and a low-value trading environment. Some 72% of the buildings are ‘at risk’ or vulnerable. Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Historic England are funding a Partnership Scheme to address this.

The current situation

In 2015 the number of conservation areas at risk rose to 505 from 497 in 2014. Although 40 conservation areas were added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2015, 32 have been removed from it. This means that 6.1% of England's conservation areas are now considered to be at risk.

Almost all local authorities have carried out surveys of their conservation areas this year, although there continues to be pressure upon their resources.

Surveys have now been completed for almost 8,300 (84%) conservation areas across the country. This has helped Historic England to gain a clear picture of how these important places and areas are sustaining themselves.

The continuing challenge

There are a many reasons why conservation areas become at risk.

Although there has been some improvement in the nation's economy, town and city centres continue to be areas where problems are commonly identified.

In the countryside, picturesque villages and landscapes continue to be affected by changes in farming practices. These can cause buildings and other structures to be neglected, and conservation areas to become at risk.

The work of addressing problems in conservation areas can be time consuming. Progress is nevertheless being made, contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and urban heritage.

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