Heritage at Risk: Conservation Areas

Conservation areas are those places within 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 and 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.

Aerial view of Alston

The market town of Alston is nestled high on the expansive moors of the north Pennines in Cumbria. It is a rugged place exploited and shaped over millennia for its rich mineral wealth of lead and silver. Today the community are working together to grow the town’s visitor economy and to conserve Alston’s industrial legacy and distinctive character.

The Current Situation

In 2013 the number of conservation areas at risk has fallen slightly to 510 from 524 in 2012. Although 66 conservation areas were added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2013, 80 have successfully been removed from it. This means that 6.2% of England's conservation areas are now considered to be at risk.  As economic conditions improve, the vitally necessary work of looking after historic places will hopefully increase, contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and townscape heritage.

In spite of reducing resources, local authorities have continued to carry out surveys of their conservation areas. Surveys have now been completed for almost 8,200 (83%) conservation areas across the country. This has helped English Heritage to gain a clear picture of how these important places and areas are sustaining themselves.

The Continuing Challenge

There is no single reason why a conservation area becomes at risk. Many factors can contribute to this, but a common one continues to be the challenging economic climate, particularly in relation to town and city centres.

As economic conditions improve, the vitally necessary work of looking after historic places will hopefully increase. contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and townscape heritage.

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