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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.

Street view of an area of the Dewsbury Town Centre Conservation Area in Kirklees, West Yorkshire showing shop fronts
Dewsbury Town Centre conservation area in Kirklees, West Yorkshire was once at the heart of a thriving market town. However, it has suffered due to larger chain stores leaving the area. It nevertheless has a fine collection of Victorian buildings, derived from wealth generated through the textile industry. A successful Townscape Heritage scheme has begun to address some of the issues facing the town, but there is more work to do. © Historic England

The current situation

In 2016 the number of conservation areas at risk fell to 496 from 505 in 2015. Although 37 conservation areas were added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2016, 46 have been removed from it. This means that 6.0% of England's conservation areas are now considered to be at risk.

Of England’s 336 local authorities, 304 (90.5%) have carried out surveys of their conservation areas to date, in spite of the continuing pressure upon their resources. Historic England has provided assistance and encouragement to help ensure the surveys continue to be completed.

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

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

It is unclear how the nation's economy will be affected following the decision to leave the European Union.  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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