Geography, funding and heritage

Brigit Luffingham has recently completed her Masters in Architecture at Glasgow School of Art. As her dissertation Brigit chose to look at the link between heritage funding and social indicators to establish if there was a link between where a listed building is located and its long term chances of survival. The following provides a synopsis of that study and the full report is available to download, below.

“Many have commented that, although conservation is justified with reference to the important role that buildings play in the ‘everyday lives of ordinary people’, it still seems to favour the conservation of buildings for the intellectual minority.” (Hubbard P., 1993)

There are various reasons why we protect our built heritage, including safeguarding its intrinsic values, connections to the past and its positive influence on our environment. In order to protect historic buildings, a hierarchy of powers has been established over the last 50 years, from international charters through to the local implementation of national policies and local preservation trusts. Whilst all of these groups are aiming for the same outcome – for our built heritage to survive for future generations – conservation movements have historically been accused of being middle-class, elitist and concerned only with continuing the self-perpetuating cycle of ‘heritage premium’ – a benefit of historic buildings which seems to be available to only those that can afford it.

Areas containing a concentration of cultural heritage have benefitted from higher property values, making the long term retention and maintenance of buildings more viable. The surviving listed buildings in these areas were built for affluent people, people who valued their preservation when statutory protections were not the norm. Throughout history, even as ownership has changed, wealthier people have cooperated to protect their buildings, which in turn has lead to conservation architecture being tarnished with notions of exclusivity and elitism. This elitism has certainly played a role in the historic shaping of many British cities, particularly in terms of the level of protections which less-significant properties faced during the era of post-industrial decline and the initial listings. In addition to this, buildings in areas of high deprivation are more likely to fall into disrepair, to (perhaps) become listed on the Buildings at Risk Register, and subsequently to be demolished.

This is particularly evident in Glasgow, where nearly half of the population live in areas which are considered to be among the 20% most deprived in Scotland, whilst just 6.3% currently live in the least disadvantaged areas. Unfortunately, the locations of the city’s 1800 listed structures, those which remarkably survived widespread demolition in the city during the 1900s, appear to match this socio-economic geography:

  • 51% of Category A Buildings sit in the least deprived areas of the city;
  • only 10% of Category A Buildings sit in the most deprived areas;
  • 50% of the buildings currently sitting on the Building at Risk Register are in areas of most deprivation and none are in the areas of least deprivation;
  • of the 32 buildings on the BARR which were subsequently demolished, 14 were in areas of multiple deprivation and just 1 was in the lowest bracket of deprivation, and this also doesn’t take into account the buildings, listed or otherwise, which were demolished before inclusion on the register.

Whilst these actualities could be attributed to Glasgow’s relatively poor track record of conservation and its history of pushing for demolition of historic assets to make way for newer, “better” developments, it can also be argued that the self-perpetuating cycle of heritage-wealth is ever increasing the socio-economic divide within the city.

These trends show that differentiated approaches to the treatment of heritage, based upon its location, are justifiable. The retention of historic buildings contributes long term benefits to area regeneration – steps should be taken to compensate for the lack of favourable factors (cultural awareness, financial resources, etc.) and to promote the preservation of buildings through additional funding and support. There are still numbers of critical buildings in areas where protection or restoration would have least viability but which could have great social and cultural impact with changes in the practice of building protection and conservation architecture, but a wider range of voices need be listened too for it to happen.

A greater understanding of the benefits of conservation architecture, and how they manifest themselves in new projects, as well as an overhaul of the current legislative system, could begin to evolve our approach to the historic environment into something which is much more socially inclusive, thus dispelling claims of elitism and prejudice in the conservation world. In turn, this has the potential to ensure that all historic properties, not just the ones considered most important or the ones sitting in the right location, will survive longer.


Download “Geographic Variation in the Protection and Conservation of Historic Buildings” a masters thesis by Brigit Luffingham