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Heritage at Risk: Conservation Areas

Conservation areas are places in villages, towns and cities which are especially valued for their historic character and associations. Like other elements of our environment, they change over time, in both positive and negative ways. What makes them special is the combination of buildings, streets, spaces and archaeology, which we enjoy, work and live in.

Change in conservation areas can be negative, either through inappropriate new development, neglect or deliberate damage. Negative change can have a very 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.

A derelict Barn in Littondale, Yorkshire Dales National Park
Littondale is an attractive valley in the centre of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Although the settlements within the dale are well looked after, the barns and walls on the edges of these settlements and particularly those more remote from settlements or roads are deteriorating rapidly as they fall out of use.

The current situation

In 2014 the number of conservation areas at risk fell to 497 from 510 in 2013. Although 37 conservation areas were added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2014, 50 have been removed from it. This means that 6.1% of England's conservation areas are now considered to be at risk 

In spite of reducing resources, local authorities have continued to carry out surveys of their conservation areas. Surveys have now been completed for over 8,200 (83%) 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

Conservation areas become at risk due to many factors. A common one continues to be the challenging economic climate, particularly in relation to town and city centres. Changing agricultural practice has seen picturesque rural conservation areas become at risk, as buildings are abandoned and farming becomes more difficult due to pressure to reduce costs.

Although economic conditions are improving, progress towards improving the condition of our historic places remains slow. The vitally necessary work of looking after them will hopefully increase, contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and townscape heritage.

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