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New campaign to save neighbourhood heritage

Now, based on the survey’s findings, English Heritage is launching a Conservation Areas at Risk campaign to get residents, local groups and councils working together to improve these special places before it is too late.

English Heritage asked every local authority in the region to complete a questionnaire for each of its conservation areas.  Over 65% responded, covering 511 of the region’s 779 conservation areas.  Of these 44 were found to be at risk (see below), ranging from a redundant chocolate factory, to a Pennine tourist town made famous by Last of the Summer Wine.  

Nationally, English Heritage’s survey revealed the top threats to be:

-plastic windows and doors (83% of conservation areas affected)
-poorly maintained roads and pavements (60%)
-street clutter (45%)
-loss of front garden walls, fences and hedges (43%)
-unsightly satellite dishes (38%)
-the effects of traffic calming or traffic management (36%)
-alterations to the fronts, roofs and chimneys of buildings (34%)
-unsympathetic extensions (31%)
-impact of advertisements (23%)
-neglected green spaces (18%).

Trevor Mitchell, English Heritage Regional Director for Planning and Development, said:

“These findings are a call for action. Some of our most iconic landscapes are conservation areas and they make a tremendous contribution to our quality of life, economy and sense of identity.  Many of the problems they face are due to what owners and businesses do to their properties and how councils manage the streets, pavements, parks and public spaces. 

“But we are not in the naming and shaming game. Residents, businesses and councils all have a role to play. This survey is a first step in understanding the threats they face. We now need to find solutions and we will target our conservation area grants on places identified as being at risk.”

Dr Simon Thurley, English Heritage Chief Executive, identified a three-point action plan to tackle decaying historic neighbourhoods, including greater use of so-called Article 4 Directions, which give councils more control over changes in conservation areas.

He said: “Only 13% of conservation areas nationally currently have Article 4 Directions to protect small but important original details such as windows, doors and front gardens. Lose these and slowly but inevitably you lose the character and the history that made the area special in the first place. And where there are neglected or derelict buildings, councils should use their powers to encourage owners to repair or sell them.

“Secondly, we want all council departments to work together to take better care of the public areas to save the public parts of conservation areas from decay.

“Thirdly, we want local people to get involved. Our survey shows that conservation areas with community support are more than twice as likely to have improved over the last three years as those without. Civic societies and residents groups can help councils by finding out what local people value, doing street clutter audits, commenting on planning applications, or helping to prepare local lists of historic buildings.”

For a full list of Conservation Areas at Risk nationally, details of the campaign, an interactive street and an A-Z and set of Frequently Asked Questions, please visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/conservationareas

Today, English Heritage also named Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, as the local authority which has done most in the region to improve its conservation areas. The ancient market town of Richmond – dubbed the prettiest in England by author James Herriot – won one of eight English Heritage regional awards because of the way it tackled long-term decline and the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease through the Swale Valley Community Initiative.  Nearly 50 key buildings have been repaired or restored, including the former railway station.

Trevor Mitchell said: “Richmond is a model of how declining fortunes can be reversed by investing in your assets and galvanising local people and organisations.

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