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Poll suggests public still supports conservation areas

Stamford then/ Historic England / press release

The public remains in support of powers held by councils to protect the character and appearance of conservation areas in England 50 years after the first was designated, according to a survey.

Findings of the YouGov poll, published by Historic England, suggest that 74 per cent of adults in England believe that councils should be able to protect conservation areas by limiting changes to buildings and streets.

Only 5 per cent said councils should not have such powers.

The first conservation area was Stamford, in Lincolnshire, designated in 1967. There are now more than 10,000 in England, ranging from small country villages to large inner-city areas.

A clause in the Civic Amenities Act 1967 was introduced to preserve the special architectural and historic interest of a place, such as conservation areas.

The survey of 2,490 adults found that 57 per cent know a little about them, with 12 per cent saying they knew a lot about them.

The survey also found:

  • 65 per cent of those who are aware they are living in conservation areas would likely relocate to another conservation area.
  • Nearly double the number of people living in a conservation area (24 per cent versus 13 per cent of the general population) have placed an official objection to a development or planning application in their local area, which, Historic England said, indicates that they’re more likely to take the time to actively look after what makes their local area unique.
  • Only 56 per cent of those living in a conservation area were aware that they actually live in one, suggesting a need to raise awareness of conservation areas.
  • The top two areas deemed to negatively affect the appearance of a place were the same for people living in and outside conservation areas – too many parked cars (43 per cent for both) and litter/fly-tipping (38 per cent in and 41 per cent outside).

Historic England said it is working in partnership with a number of organisations to reach civic groups and heritage professionals, providing them with tools and training on historic areas and raising awareness of them.

To that end, it wants to see local authorities doing as much as they can to raise awareness of them, especially among homeowners and commercial property owners.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive at Historic England, said: “This public attitudes survey tells us that conservation areas are highly regarded and overall, a positive influence. This legislation is still relevant 50 years on from when it was introduced, and a tool that local authorities have in their armoury to protect the local historic environment which is precious to people and communities. Without this legislation, historic buildings, streets and landscapes would have been lost forever."

Wilson said a continuing drop in local authority conservation officer numbers since 2006, could put conservation areas at risk.

“Conservation areas must be protected – they have an important role as we look to the future and can help councils, civic groups and communities to preserve what’s really special for future generations to enjoy.”

Image credit | Historic England