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Protect urban heritage to prevent growth in inequality

Our new research report for the National Trust

Our research for the National Trust suggests there are approximately 3,000 Grade II buildings with potential for valuable public use that are currently at risk in urban areas.

While Grade I and II* buildings at risk are registered and monitored via Historic England’s Heritage At Risk register, this protection is not afforded to Grade II listed structures. Grade II buildings are in many ways at greatest risk due to lower levels of statutory protection and monitoring, exacerbated by diminishing local authority resource to care for these heritage assets.

Our report for the National Trust The Trends and Future of Urban Heritage - explores the impact of this rise in urban population and high number of urban heritage assets at risk. The research examines the current policy and programme landscape for conserving heritage assets, enabling communities to protect and preserve their local heritage, as well as developing sustainable re-usage plans. It concluded:

  • If nothing is done, buildings will suffer decline and will become increasingly difficult – and expensive – to repair (the “conservation deficit”); “Increasing numbers of important historic buildings will fall into decay, creating a spiral of decline for the places where they are located. This impact will be felt first and to a greater degree in the poorest areas, exacerbating inequality” - Funder
  • Failure to protect these heritage assets may contribute to greater social and geographic inequality through lost opportunities to contribute to place resilience, “broken-window” syndrome and concentration of resources in areas with greater social and economic capital;
  • The National Trust and other heritage bodies have the scale, brand, expertise and convening power required to make change and are keen to find new ways to collaborate around urban heritage;
  • Community groups have the passion required to make projects happen and often high levels of expertise, but no-one group will have the full range of skills required from conservation through legal work to business planning to ensure that projects can be well delivered and be viable into the long term;
  • Developing sympathetic support for the sustainability of community-lead heritage projects is important for the urban heritage sector.

The National Trust will take these findings forward into their strategic work in urban places. This takes the Trust back to the original aims of its founder, Octavia Hill:

Octavia was instrumental in the set of the National Trust. She was a social reformer, and campaigned to give ordinary people better living environments and access to the outdoors – by working across the sector to help protect the places that matter to people in towns and cities, we are returning to our core principles of providing benefit for the nation

- Rachel Snowball, Urban Places Programme Manager

Full report here.

- Rebekah Polding, Senior Consultant

Image credit: IanWStokes, “Watching the waves on Hastings pier”, October 11, 2017, flickr cc