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Through Civic Voice’s Big Conservation Conversation survey, we asked civic societies and local authorities the question, ‘In your opinion, are your local Conservation Areas being afforded the appropriate protection by the local authority?’

The results were stark. Over 70% of respondents did not feel that their Conservation Areas were being afforded the necessary protection.

When asked to expand on why they did not believe their Conservation Areas were being given appropriate protection and provide specific examples, respondents reported the following key themes threatening their Conservation Areas:

  • Lack of resources within the local authority to manage historic environment effectively;

  • Lack of, or weak, enforcement against planning breaches;

  • Lack of Article 4 directions;

  • Incremental change and the ‘broken window’ effect;

  • No Conservation Area appraisals or management plans.

We can also drill down further, exploring what are the key issues on the ground, adversely affecting Conservation Areas? When Historic England (then English Heritage) began to investigate and identify the threats facing Conservation Areas in 2009, they noted the following greatest threats:

  • Unsympathetic replacement doors and windows; 

  • Poorly maintained roads and pavements and the amount of street clutter; and

  • Loss of boundary walls, fences or hedges.


Now, nearly ten years on from the first national Heritage at Risk assessment of Conservation Areas, the time is right to review and assess whether these threats continue to be the greatest threats to Conservation Areas, or are new threats emerging?

In December 2016, Historic England, IHBC and Civic Voice asked ahead of the 50th anniversary what threats were facing Conservation Areas today. Respondents were asked to rate issues putting Conservation Areas ‘at risk’ on a scale of 1 (not a problem) to 4 (a significant problem). The following key threats were noted:

  • Severe dereliction of buildings was identified by 23% of respondents as ‘a significant problem’ and by 75% as ‘a problem of some degree’;

  • Public realm issues including street clutter and traffic signs (e.g. bins, posts), 77% of respondents stated this was ‘an issue’;

  • Loss of traditional paving materials - 73% stated this was ‘an issue’;

  • Advertisements and signs - 63% stated this was ‘an issue’;

  • Lack of maintenance - 62% stated was ‘an issue’.


12 months later, and to coincide with Winchester Conservation Area, celebrating 50 years since its designation as the third Conservation Area, Civic Voice released results from a website poll which asked the question, ‘What is the most important issue putting Conservation Areas at risk?’ 


From 1,567 votes, 33% of respondents stated that vacant buildings and the need for new uses was the number one issue threatening the future of conservation areas.

Taking all of the above research into account, it shows that that the issues impacting upon Conservation Areas remain fairly consistent over the last ten years, with poor quality public realm, unsympathetic alterations and vacant buildings continuing to be the primary threats.

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