Conservation areas at risk

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English Heritage (EH) is on the warpath, looking out for messy streets, unsympathetic extensions and ugly satellite dishes. One in seven of England’s 9,300 designated conservation areas is at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate development, according to EH’s 2009 Heritage At Risk register released this week. The blame lies jointly with irresponsible owners and residents and careless councils.

‘Does a row of Victorian villas with plastic windows lift your spirits? I doubt it,’ says EH chief executive Simon Thurley. ‘If we were to ask for two things from this campaign [to get councils and owners working together], it would be, first, that councils use the powers they already have to apply Article 4 Directions in conservation areas, giving them control over small changes to things such as doors, windows, roofs and fences, which, unchecked, lead to slow but irreversible decline.

Second, that councils pay more attention to the public elements. Cluttered streets, patchwork pavements, intrusive traffic-calming measures, abandoned buildings, an unkempt park these add up to a pervasive air of neglect. Conservation areas underpin communities. They’re the local heritage that local people pass on.’

The survey says only 15% of conservation areas have improved since 2006, and only 13% have an Article 4 Direction that can prevent plastic windows. This is backed by a survey of estate agents in which 82% say original features help add value to a property and 78% say they help a property to sell more quickly.

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Conservation areas vary from Belgravia to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to the Devon fishing village of Clovelly. The Cheshire village of Tattenhall and the market town of Ross-on-Wye are both cited as well managed examples.

However, Chaldon Herring, a shrunken Dorset village of vernacular buildings that was home to the Powys Circle, a group of 20th-century artists and writers, is said to be at risk. EH says it has deteriorated significantly due to a loss of historic fabric and development pressure to amalgamate small houses for second homes.

The medieval port of Boston, Lincolnshire, is also on the hit list. It has declined as a port and as the county’s agricultural centre, and several buildings are in need of repair. Proposals for a new development in Lincoln would harm the historic setting of the architecturally significant St Botolph’s church, known as The Stump.

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