IHBC Yearbook 2021

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 43 have gone into economic decline and physical deterioration, but then formed a basis for recovery and transformation. However, there are other areas, including some smaller towns, where there has been decline but without recovery. Heritage is identified as a key factor in high street regeneration by England’s High Street Task Force. Many town and city centres have historic buildings and environments and these can be helpful in promoting those centres, for shopping, business, recreation and as a place to visit. While issues of decline in the high street were identified well before the pandemic, Covid has accelerated the rate of change in historic towns and city centres. The repeated lockdowns have resulted in high-level casualties, including in retail, hospitality and culture/entertainment. Hospitality is a dynamic sector, so may recover quickly. But some changes may be more permanent, including some contraction in retail, changes in livework patterns and perhaps reduced demand for offices in urban centres, although possibly increased demand for flexible office space near to residential areas. This latter issue is difficult to predict, being based to a large degree on anecdotal evidence. One of the other key principles promoted by the High Street Task Force is the need for high street strategies and plans to be stakeholderled and to be shared by the different organisations involved. This has to be the way forward. However, it does have implications for heritagearea-based initiatives if they are to contribute to wider objectives in the most effective way. HERITAGE PRACTICE In considering the levelling up agenda and how it translates into local strategy and action plans, there are clear implications for the heritage sector. The Gloucester Heritage Strategy 2019–29 precedes the Covid crisis, but nonetheless has a strong emphasis on the role of heritage in supporting sustainable economic development. This includes addressing viability challenges. A narrow focus on significance will not provide effective protection and conservation for heritage, especially where there are market failures. This has been recognised by the IHBC and was one of the driving factors behind the ‘Conservation Professional Practice Principles’ document, which was badged jointly with the Historic Towns and Villages Forum and Civic Voice. This document attempts to describe the full scope of heritage protection, conservation, and management practice. So it emphasises the need to focus not just on significance, but on understanding the economic, social and environmental values of heritage in the present, as part of the infrastructure of modern cities, towns, villages and rural areas. Planning for heritage depends very much on understanding the type of area and local economy. In high growth areas, there may be an emphasis on protection and regulation. In under-performing areas, intervention and action may be necessary where the market cannot deliver. It is interesting to note that community organisations have been part of the solution in such areas, sometimes taking on multiple heritage assets. Community organisations can access grants, donations, crowd-funding and voluntary time, which can help to overcome viability challenges both at the capital project and revenue/ operational stages. Such organisations often demonstrate substantial creative and entrepreneurial skills, essential to finding solutions to conserving heritage assets. Sometimes, the heritage factor can release specific funding or gain public or business support and interest. GOING FORWARD It is necessary to understand the dynamics of how heritage has delivered public and economic benefit over the past few decades in order to plan for the next decade and beyond. Heritage has not only helped to achieve growth, but arguably delivered more inclusive and sustainable forms of growth. This includes creating economic opportunity in areas most in need, retaining embodied energy, supporting mixed use and conserving more pedestrian-oriented environments. For heritage bodies, the challenge is to ensure political understanding of the benefits of heritage and therefore support for conservation This applies at UK, national and local levels of government and is essential both to ensure allocation of sufficient resources and also to avoid ill-conceived relaxation of heritage protection. Dave Chetwyn is Managing Director of Urban Vision Enterprise CIC, Chair of the Board of the National Planning Forum and IHBC Communications and Outreach Secretary. St Helens: smaller towns are an important part of city regions and should not be overlooked.