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.

The current situation

In 2018 there are 502 conservation areas on the Heritage at Risk Register. 9 conservation areas entries were added to the Register in 2018, whilst 16 have been removed for positive reasons.

Historic England provides assistance and encouragement to local authorities to help assess as many conservation areas as possible. In 2018 three local authorities took part in the data gathering process for the first time.

Updated assessments were provided for 6,776 conservation areas across the country. This has helped Historic England to gain a clearer picture of how these important places and areas are sustaining themselves.

Newly restored gate to Green Lane Works, with the clock tower above it, and a van in front of it.
Kelham Island industrial conservation area, on the edge of Sheffield’s city centre, was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2012 due to the large number of cleared and undeveloped sites. Historic England have funded the repair of the Green Lane Works clock tower and Eagle Works, and new owners have taken on deteriorating industrial sites nearby. Once these sites are redeveloped, there is a good prospect that Kelham Island conservation area will come off the Register. © Historic England DP175830

The continuing challenge

The reasons why conservation areas become at risk are complex and varied, depending on their situation.

It remains unclear how the nation's economy will be affected following the decision to leave the European Union, although rising construction costs and a reduction in the availability of heritage skilled labour may have an impact. Our urban centres continue to be areas where problems are commonly identified.

Picturesque villages and rural 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. Nevertheless, progress is being made, contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and urban heritage.

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