Market square with period buildings in the background and clock tower, parked cars and street furniture in the foreground.
The fine architecture of the 19th-century commercial buildings and historic clock tower in Wednesbury’s market square is let down by poor quality shopfronts and the dominance of car parking. © Historic England Archive DP275200
The fine architecture of the 19th-century commercial buildings and historic clock tower in Wednesbury’s market square is let down by poor quality shopfronts and the dominance of car parking. © Historic England Archive DP275200

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 poor quality 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.

The current situation

In 2020 there are 491 conservation areas on the Heritage at Risk Register: 3 conservation areas were added to the Register in 2020, whilst 9 have been removed for positive reasons.

Historic England provides assistance and encouragement to local authorities to help assess as many conservation areas as possible.

Gathering data on the condition and trend of conservation areas, as well as the main threats they face, helps 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.

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 take time. Nevertheless, progress is being made, contributing positively to a sustainable future for England's unique rural and urban heritage.

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