Context 171 - March 2022

18 C O N T E X T 1 7 1 : M A R C H 2 0 2 2 WILL HOLBOROW and ARCHIE WILLIAMS Heritage on the high street Government funding programmes provide an unprecedented opportunity to use heritage as a catalyst for reviving historic centres for retail, leisure and community life. In the wake of the 2008 crash, the Portas Review of 2011 and the relentless rise of internet shopping over the past decade, a consensus has developed in Britain around the need to revitalise high streets, not only as centres for retail, but also as hubs for leisure, social activities and community identity. This aim is supported through the various funding schemes brought in by the last few governments, most recently by the Levelling Up fund. These programmes present enormous opportunities for heritagebased regeneration. The array of government funding programmes announced in recent years is quite bewildering. The Future High Streets Fund was launched in 2018, including £107 million to support the regeneration of heritage high streets. In September 2019, the government announced the introduction of the high street heritage action zones scheme, which proposed to channel £95 million from the Future High Streets Fund into the revitalisation of 69 historic high streets. Also in 2019, the Towns Fund promised £3.6 billion of investment, under which 101 towns in England were selected to develop ‘town deals’. Most recently, in March 2021, the Levelling Up Fund was introduced with the offer of £4.8 billion in high-value local infrastructure across the UK. The high street heritage action zones (HSHAZs) are a refinement of the heritage action zones (HAZs) introduced by Historic England in 2017, and both are partnerships between local authorities and Historic England. Currently the 18 original HAZs are still in operation. Generally they incorporate a particular historic area of a town, like Drake Street in Rochdale or the Burges in Coventry, although some are less town-focused: one of them will see the recording and restoration of 26 miles of the historic Stockton and Darlington railway and ancillary buildings. The 69 areas designated as high-street HAZs have much in common with the earlier HAZs in their focus on high-street heritage. For example, Lowestoft High Street HAZ for London Road complements the North Lowestoft HAZ that has been running since 2019. The HAZs and HSHAZs offer a toolkit of solutions and ideas which are applied in accordance with the needs of the individual high street. Improving the condition and appearance of historic buildings is a common objective in these areas. For example, in Walworth Road, south London, a detailed condition survey has provided the basis for identifying potential improvements to building facades, and preparing packages of grant-funded work that will help raise the environmental quality of the street. Unattractive shop fronts and signage are a widespread issue that most HAZs are seeking to address. In some cases, like in Maryport and Lancaster, grant schemes for shopfront improvements are supplemented by design guidelines. The HAZs are also intended to assist in the transition which the high street is currently undergoing, becoming a centre for new kinds of leisure activities, cultural uses and retail experiences. Many of them also offer grants to property owners to use vacant floorspace, encouraging their use as offices, pop-ups or accommodation. Some HAZs also provide for Proposals for shopfront improvements along Oxford Road in the Reading High Street Heritage Action Zone. (Photo: Purcell)