DP074949 Alexandra Cottages, Penge, Lewisham, London
DP074949 Alexandra Cottages, Penge, Lewisham, London © Historic England Archive
DP074949 Alexandra Cottages, Penge, Lewisham, London © Historic England Archive

New Poll Shows Strong Public Popularity for Conservation Areas - 50 Years After They Were Introduced

  • Findings released on anniversary of the first Conservation Area, Stamford in Lincolnshire, designated in 1967 - there are now more than 10,000 Conservation Areas across England
  • 74% adults living in England support powers for councils allowing them to restrict changes to buildings and streets to protect the character of a Conservation Area
  • People who live in Conservation Areas are far more likely than the general population to rate the appearance of their local area as good (75% vs 58%)
  • People who live in a Conservation Area are almost twice as likely as the general population to have placed an objection to a development or planning application (24% vs 13%)
  • Historic England is planning guidance to de-clutter streets after polling said street clutter and traffic signs spoil the appearance of England's streets
  • 'Relevant 50 years on … Conservation Areas are an important tool that local authorities have in their armoury to protect the historic environment'
    'But continuing drop in local authority conservation officer numbers could put Conservation Areas at risk'

A new poll reveals widespread public support for the powers that enable councils to protect the character and appearance of England's Conservation Areas by limiting changes to buildings and streets.

The findings of the YouGov poll have been published by Historic England 50 years since the first Conservation Area - Stamford in Lincolnshire - was designated in 1967. Conservation Areas are designated and managed by local authorities, and there are now more than 10,000, ranging from small country villages to large inner city areas.

Conservation Areas featured as a clause in the Civic Amenities Act 1967 - introduced to preserve the special architectural and historic interest of a place, at a time when large redevelopments were happening in towns and cities up and down the country in the 1960s. Fast forward 50 years and the research shows that the general public are broadly in favour of Conservation Areas.
Poll findings

Three quarters of all adults (74%) in England said that they believe councils should have the powers to restrict changes to buildings and streets in order to protect the character and appearance of a Conservation Area - suggesting a passion for preserving a place's heritage. Only 5% said councils shouldn't have such controls.

The majority (93%) of adults in England are aware of Conservation Areas. More than half of those surveyed said they know a little bit about them (57%), whilst 12% said they know a lot about them.

People living in Conservation Areas like them

YouGov also surveyed adults living in Conservation Areas and found that they were more likely than the general population to rate the appearance of their local area as good (75% vs 58%).

And almost two thirds (65%) of residents who are aware they live in a Conservation Areas said they would be likely to relocate to another Conservation Area if they had to move home. Only 3% said it was 'not at all likely' that they would move to another Conservation Area.

The poll also shows that nearly double the number of people living in a Conservation Area (24% vs 13% of the general population) have placed an official objection to a development or planning application in their local area - indicating that they're more likely to take the time to actively look after what makes their local area unique.

But only a small majority of those surveyed who live in a Conservation Area (56%) were aware that they actually live in one. This suggests a need to raise awareness, says Historic England. The public body is taking action by working in partnership with organisations to reach civic groups and heritage professionals, providing them with tools and training. But it would also like to see local authorities doing as much as they can to raise awareness of Conservation Areas, especially among homeowners and commercial property owners - the people who most commonly make changes to buildings.

People interested in finding out if they live in a Conservation Area are advised to contact their local council.

Cars, litter, fly tipping and street clutter - issues for residents, no matter where they live

According to the poll, the top two issues that were deemed to be negatively affecting the appearance of a place were the same for people living in and outside Conservation Areas. They were too many parked cars (43% for both groups), and litter and fly tipping (38% in Conservation Areas and 41% outside of Conservation Areas). Another common problem that respondents said was detrimental to the appearance of their local area was street clutter and traffic signs (22% and 17% respectively).

To help combat these issues Historic England has produced a revised version of 'Streets for All' which provides guidance to local authority staff, highway engineers and civic groups. Historic England is seeking their views before finalising the guidance. Local authority planners and conservation staff are also invited to input into a revised version of 'Conservation Area Designations, Appraisal Management'.

Have your say on these two guides.

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.

"But, unfortunately, the continuing drop in local authority conservation officer numbers could put Conservation Areas at risk. There has been a slow decline since 2006 and we may start to feel the effects soon. 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."

Did you know?

  • 2.2% of England (2,938 square kilometres) is a Conservation Area - approximately the same size as Luxembourg.
  • 59% of conservation areas are rural and 41% are in urban areas.
  • The first Conservation Area was Stamford in Lincolnshire.
  • Every local authority in England has at least one Conservation Area.
    Wiltshire has the most Conservation Areas with 246 across the county, followed by Cornwall, with 146, and the Cotswold district, with 145.
  • The largest Conservation Area is Swaledale and Arkengarthdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It covers 71 square kilometres and the Conservation Area protects around 1,000 traditional farm buildings and the dry-stone walls. Only slightly smaller than Guernsey, there are 30 countries smaller than this Conservation Area.
  • The smallest Conservation Area is Heath Passage in the London Borough of Barnet. It is just over 1000sqm and includes just two buildings.

Case studies

Stamford, Lincolnshire

In the ninth century, Stamford was one of the original five boroughs of the Danelaw - an area of Anglo Saxon Britain presided over by the Danish. The town prospered in medieval times, but its heyday came in the 18th century when it became a fashionable staging post on the Great North Road, linking London and Edinburgh.

In the 1960s local planner, Kenneth Fennell of Kesteven County Council, was aware of the growing pressures on historic towns from traffic and development. Fearing that the protection of listed buildings alone would do little to safeguard the integrity and character of Stamford's townscape, he and his team undertook what today would be called as a 'townscape character assessment'. He then asked his Councillors to establish a policy to protect the character of the five distinct areas of the town.

Around this time, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was planning to undertake four pilot studies, in Bath, York, Chichester and King's Lynn. But thanks to Fennell's preparatory work, it was Stamford that became the first Conservation Area in England.

Tower Gardens, Tottenham, London

The Tower Gardens Estate in Tottenham - one of the first 'garden suburbs' in the world - is home to some of Britain's most renowned council housing. It is an example of progressive Edwardian Architecture - rare within the largely Victorian historic fabric of London.

At the turn of the century Tottenham was a village suburb served by new railways and at the end of the tramlines. Following the introduction of the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act, which - for the first time - gave powers to councils to build housing for working people, the newly formed London County Council (LCC) took action.

Aided by a donation from Samuel Montagu, of the silversmith and watchmaking family, some of the Tottenham's surrounding fields were purchased and construction began. The LLC, keen to provide quality social housing, hired progressive architects from within the Arts and Crafts Movement. And as part of the plans Montagu wanted Jewish workers living in Tower Hamlets to be rehoused and public gardens for residents to enjoy.

This development, and other similar ones by the LCC, helped to place Britain at the cutting edge of planned social housing, which improved conditions for people. The 954 housing units on Tower Gardens made it the largest development undertaken by the LCC between 1898 and 1914 (other large estates were built in Tooting, Hammersmith and Croydon).

Sheffield City Centre, Yorkshire

Designated on 19th August 1996, the City Centre Conservation Area covers approximately 0.3 sq km and is a combination of the original Town Hall Conservation Area and Cathedral Conservation Area. It contains a high concentration of listed - mostly Victorian - buildings reflecting Sheffield's commercial growth in the 19th century (most notably the Town Hall listed at Grade I) and is home to inter-war buildings such as the Grade II* listed City Hall and the Grade II Central Library built in the late 1920s and 1930s.

The Conservation Area includes public spaces, including the Peace Gardens which were first laid out in 1938 following the demolition of St Paul's Church. Originally named St Paul's Gardens, it is believed that they soon got nicknamed the Peace Gardens because the World War II Munich Agreement was signed at a similar time. The Gardens were originally intended to be replaced by an extension to the Town Hall, but due to World War II, this was never built. In 1985, the space was formally renamed the 'Peace Gardens' and has since had a number of makeovers, making it a contemporary space in an historic setting.