Press Release: 50 years of Conservation Areas

Results from surveys of local civic societies and heritage professionals show that Conservation Areas have been very successful but threats to our heritage remain.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Civic Amenities Act and the establishment of the first conservation area in Stamford, Lincolnshire. To mark the event, Historic England has been working with Civic Voice and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) to build a picture of their members’ attitudes towards conservation areas half a century on through two parallel surveys. A range of Civic Voice members from local civic societies across the UK and IHBC professionals from the public and private sector took part in the surveys.

The overall picture indicates that conservation areas have been effective at preserving areas of historic and architectural interest. Almost all respondents from both groups felt that conservation areas had been in some way successful at protecting heritage, with nearly half thinking they had been ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ successful. Respondents felt that most conservation areas appear to be in a stable condition. Most of them from both groups (roughly half) felt that the appearance and vitality of their known conservation area had not changed significantly in the past 3 years. On the sensitive issue of design, very few believe modern design to be inappropriate in Conservation Areas (Only 4% of Civic Voice members and no IHBC members).

Respondents who live within a conservation area told us that they wanted to stay living in one if they had to move. 71% of Civic Voice members said they would want to remain living in a conservation area and only 5% not wanting to live in another one, while 57% of IHBC respondents said they would move to another conservation area and none said they would not want to live in one, . The reasons cited for wanting to remain living in a conservation area included the quality, historic character and general condition of the area.

The picture, however, is not all positive and respondents from both groups did identify a number of issues to be confronted in this anniversary year. The controls in conservation areas are not well understood. Only 2% of IHBC and Civic Voice members believed the general public have a good understanding about the extent of additional controls in place with more than half feeling that the public had ‘little’ or ‘no’ understanding. And of the respondents who did report significant change in their local conservation area in the last three years, more were likely to perceive a deterioration rather than an improvement.

Street clutter, the loss of traditional paving materials, advertisements, a lack of maintenance and loss of historic details were the five most significant concerns identified by both groups. When the problem of the loss of historic detailing was examined in more detail the most frequently mentioned concerns were with doors and windows, signs and advertising, shopfronts and the deteriorating condition of front elevations generally.

The respondents came up with some very helpful suggestions about how local civic societies could become more effective in improving conservation areas. These included: building links between the local group and the local authority, raising general awareness of the designation, campaigning and using volunteers to actively manage places.

Laura Sandys, Vice-President of Civic Voice and Daughter of Lord Duncan Sandys, said: “Today there are over 10,000 conservation areas in the UK reflecting the popularity of this legislative tool in identifying and protecting our most valued historic places. The survey results are being shared on Saturday 17th June as communities across the country celebrate National Civic Day. Civic Day is a day to celebrate where you live and to highlight what makes it special for you. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and raise general awareness of the designation as we come together to say “My Conservation Area Matters”

Background:

Civic Voice is the national charity for the civic movement in England. We make places more attractive, enjoyable and distinctive. We promote civic pride. http://www.civicvoice.org.uk
Historic England is the public body that looks after England's historic environment. We champion and protect historic places, helping people understand, value and care for them. http://www.historicengland.org.uk
The Institute of Historic Building Conservation is the UK’s professional body for historic environment conservation specialists. IHBC members work in areas that help secure the conservation of historic places, buildings, sites or areas that we value. - See more at: http://www.ihbc.org.uk
Summaries of the two research reports can be viewed at http://content.historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/research/conservation-area-survey-findings.pdf