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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.

Carnforth railway structures and men in orange overalls standing on the rail lines
Carnforth near Lancaster was added to the Heritage at Risk Register as a Conservation Area at Risk in 2016 due to the deteriorating condition of properties in its town centre, especially former steam railway structures associated with a rare Motive Power Steam Depot. Historic England is now advising trusts and companies associated with railway structures to explore options for the area and to grow visitor numbers at the Railway Station Visitor Centre © Historic England DP174696

The current situation

In 2017 the number of conservation areas at risk rose from 496 to 512. 47 conservation areas were added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2017, whilst 22 have been removed for positive reasons. This means that 6% of England's conservation areas remain at risk; the same percentage as in 2016.

Of England's 336 local authorities, 308 (91.7%) have carried out surveys of their conservation areas, a slight improvement over 2016, in spite of the continuing pressure upon resources. Historic England has provided assistance and encouragement to help ensure the surveys continue to be completed.

Surveys were completed for almost 8,500 (86%) 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.

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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