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English Heritage warns that Conservation Areas are at risk!


1 June 2009

England has some 9,300 Conservation Areas, historic parts of cities, towns, suburbs and villages designated by local authorities to protect their special character. But what condition are they in? Are they cherished through a close partnership of council and residents? Or are they at risk from neglect, decay and inappropriate development?

Conservation Areas vary enormously. They include, for example, the Belgravia Conservation Area in central London, the industrial heritage of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, the fishing village of Clovelly in North Devon and the Victorian People's Park Conservation Area in Halifax. The heart of a historic town might be a Conservation Area. So too might be a street of well-preserved 1930s semi-detached houses or an isolated group of farm buildings. Details of local Conservation Areas are held by councils and can usually be found on their websites.

English Heritage has asked every Local Authority in the country to fill in a questionnaire for each of their Conservation Areas as part of the first nationwide census of the condition of this important element of our heritage. The results will be announced and a campaign will be launched on 23rd June to help councils, communities and individual residents to care for these special places.

Conservation Areas identified as at risk will be added to the Heritage at Risk register, published annually by English Heritage. Each year new categories are added to the register in an attempt to create a Domesday Book of every aspect of England's threatened heritage. The register helps everyone to prioritise action, direct resources to areas of need and focus attention on saving the best of the past for the future. Eventually it will make England the first country in the world to have a comprehensive picture of its heritage at risk and the necessary understanding to save it.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Conservation Areas play a vital role in protecting the most important historic places in England from ill-considered change. Designated by local authorities after widespread local consultation, millions of us live in or near one, go to work or shop in one or visit them for leisure. Thanks to help from hundreds of Local Authority Conservation Officers all over the country, this survey will give us a true picture of the condition of these important, historic places."

Are sash windows still gracing house-fronts or are Conservation Areas suffering from a plague of plastic ones? Are front gardens being lost to car parking? Are the hearts of our most historic towns and suburban high streets under threat from the wrong kind of change? Does the existence of an active local amenity society make a difference?

English Heritage will be analysing the results carefully so that they can help to provide answers to questions like these and propose solutions where Conservation Areas are in decline. This is a strategic, national campaign and English Heritage won't be able to get involved in individual issues at a local level. However, they will be providing residents and local groups with information and advice and explaining how they can help by working constructively with local authorities to manage the places they value most. There is a lot that residents can do themselves and English Heritage will support Conservation Officers in their tireless work to halt decay and inappropriate change before it is too late.

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