IHBC Yearbook 2021

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 41 LEVELLING UP HERITAGE PRACTICE IN ENGLAND FOR BALANCED GROWTH DAVE CHETWYN LEVELLING UP is currently a much-used, but rather vague term, described by a BBC Today programme presenter as a phrase that means everything and nothing at the same time. Discussion of levelling up has included diverse subjects like transport and infrastructure, planning, housing, jobs, education and skills. The term has been used with regard to geographical disparities, whether between regions or between different parts of the same local area. There has been some suggestion that levelling up involves shifting the focus from cities to smaller towns. Levelling up appears to be wide in scope. But what are the implications of levelling up for heritage? DEFINING LEVELLING UP To help in answering this question, it may be useful to attempt a definition of levelling up as measures to tackle geographical economic inequalities. In London and other high growth areas, pressure for investment and growth has resulted in land and property price inflation, in addition to congestion, pressure on infrastructure and adverse environmental impacts, such as poor air quality. This is highlighted in the emerging Reddington and Frognal Neighbourhood Plan in Camden, which relates to a largely historic and residential area (a garden suburb) and highlights challenges in affordability, congestion, air quality and loss of greenery. Interestingly, there is a high correlation in such areas in addressing climate change and conservation of the historic environment. In other areas, lack of demand and suppressed land and property prices create viability challenges for development, including historic building conversions. Viability challenges become acute when there is a perception that investing in property might not deliver a profit. Conversely, there are also many parts of the UK with a more balanced economy where the market works without any need for intervention. ECONOMIC FACTORS AND HERITAGE From my own experience these geographical economic variations are often reflected in the attitude of communities, businesses and plan-making bodies to heritage. In high growth areas, there is often a more protectionist perspective and sometimes a perception that heritage is a barrier to growth. In under-performing areas, heritage is often viewed as a means to achieving economic development and regeneration. Of course, there is also a relationship between economic factors, viability and the condition of buildings. High concentrations of ‘buildings at risk’ are often to be found in under-performing areas. This can make historic buildings vulnerable to deterioration or demolition. So consideration of use trends and viability challenges for historic buildings and areas are a crucial part of the heritage evidence base for planLiverpool city centre: levelling up could be defined as measures to address geographical economic inequalities. (All photos: Dave Chetwyn)