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Heritage-led regeneration key to future of town centres

Words: Laura Edgar
North Shield Fish Quay / ChickenWing Jackson, Shutterstock_1848867703

A report has suggested that embedding regeneration within investment programmes intended to revitalise high streets will more effectively drive the growth and renewal of Britain’s historic town centres.

Produced by planning consultancy Lichfields, Historic Opportunities focuses on the value of long-term thinking and a holistic approach to the success of regeneration projects. It features two case studies - North Shields Fish Quay in the North East and Grimsby in Lincolnshire – and concludes that projects are now focused "more than ever" on repurposing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to meet society’s changing needs. It states: "Heritage-led regeneration projects are also focused more than ever on reusing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to changes in the way that people live, work and shop."

The report follows Lichfields' previous report Moving on Up. After analysing more than 100 bids for three key funding streams aimed at delivering town centre regeneration, it concluded that heritage-led regeneration is among six key themes underpinning the bids.

Historic Opportunities notes that nearly half of the current buildings in retail's use and 33 per cent of office buildings were built before 1919, many of which have been poorly adapted. The report finds that the way heritage-led regeneration is being implemented has evolved and is more complex and multi-layered now.

It states: "For many years it was thought that simply restoring historic buildings externally and providing new shopfronts and usable floorspace would be enough to deliver regeneration and attract new businesses, despite there being little empirical evidence to support that assumption."

This way of thinking has "given way to more effective heritage-led regeneration projects that are predicated on clearer business and investment strategies", says Lichfields. "These are designed to complement and form an embedded part of wider investment programmes, which are aimed at improving local economies through investment in infrastructure, new industries and technologies."

Embedding heritage-led regeneration in this way can, the report's authors conclude, help to harness heritage investment’s potential to inspire action and promote initiatives, as well as ensure that it produces more effective and sustainable results.

The report’s lead author, Lichfields' James Fryatt, said: “Heritage-led regeneration projects need to be focused more than ever on reusing assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to people’s changing lifestyle, work and shopping habits. In the high street for instance, this will see historic buildings increasingly adapted to reflect changes in retail and growing demand for leisure activities, creative and flexible workspaces, and housing in sustainable and accessible locations.

“It’s also about bringing the history of towns to the surface, engaging communities in heritage projects and enhancing places with the aim of attracting new businesses, visitors and residents.”

Nick Bridgland, Lichfields’ heritage director, added: “The key to long-term success is to see it as part of an overarching holistic approach embedded within wider programmes of investment aimed at revitalising places that have been left behind.

Historic Opportunities can be found on the Lichfields website.

Image credit | ChickenWing Jackson, Shutterstock