The Economic Case for Conservation Area Designation to all of commercial Hamlet Court Road

This message put to our Borough Councillors today – 14/2/21

The Economic Case for Conservation Area Designation to all of commercial Hamlet Court Road

When I asked a question at Full Council in December about the potential for heritage led economic regeneration the Portfolio Holder correctly pointed to the law and the consideration that designation should only be in terms of architectural or historical special interest. Of course we understand this. But the economic question is huge and will be crucial to existing and future traders in the road and wider area, the residents locally and indeed the future prospects for the centre of our town. Members have quite rightly asked this question in Place Scrutiny and Full Council, without a proper answer. The answer that came back to my question referred, at paragraph 6.3.12 of the draft appraisal, to reduced vacancy as the area becomes more attractive in which to live and work and the potential for grant funding and regeneration schemes. At paragraph 6.3.13 this potential was extended to communities to take this forward.

That was it. Nothing further. No reference to any wider study nor report. This is simply grossly inadequate and certainly not what many other towns across England are doing and not matching the guidance being given by Government, institutions and many heritage and business experts.

Historic England have made the case in the last two years for the importance to the economy of heritage in their documents ‘Heritage and the Economy 2019’ and ‘…2020’. These can be seen here:

and here

This is the front cover to the 2019 document (the cover of the 2020 document is similar). Notice that it is not of a stately home, a castle nor cathedral but of a road that could easily be Hamlet Court Road. This is because this is exactly where most heritage impacts on society, in our high streets. It is also why the Government are giving such attention to historic high streets in their High Street Heritage Action Zone programme.

The documents cite the Nobel Prize winning economist, Robert Merton Solow who said that “over the long term, places with strong, distinctive identities are more likely to prosper than places without them.

Every place must identify its strongest, most distinctive features and develop them or run the risk of being all things to all persons and nothing special to any”. It goes on to say that the historic environment can be a cornerstone of the economic and social revival of our towns and cities.

The documents are very comprehensive with significant economic benefits described as resulting from investment in heritage. Points made include:

  • Business in historic buildings is growing and historic places are increasingly attractive to business (+154% since 2012)
  • Heritage influences the location choices of business, attracting highly skilled and highly educated workers
  • Heritage enhances business opportunities (over 60% of business in historic building were established in last 3 years)
  • Heritage shapes people perceptions and authentic experience of places (81% in survey agreed that everyone should experience beauty)
  • Investing in the historic environment can successfully increase footfall and reduce vacancy rates
  • Much heritage potential is still untapped
  • Cumulative growth of heritage employment has outstripped the rest of the economy (+19% compared to +11%)
  • Heritage GVA is a growing part of the national economy, greater than that of Arts & Culture, Aerospace, Defence and Security.
  • Heritage creates construction jobs including new skilled positions
  • The Total Economic Value is greater than the sum of the parts, with cultural, social and economic benefits. Heritage is a major contributor to wellbeing.
  • Heritage has the ability to contribute to a new greener, circular economy
  • Heritage is inherently sustainable and an integral part of a low carbon economy and the UK’s carbon neutral commitments
  • Refurbishment and retrofitting emits less carbon than a new building. “The greenest building is one that already exists”.
  • Heritage regeneration leads to inclusive growth. Investing in a people centred approach to heritage – one that benefits all levels of society – could potentially help foster social inclusion.

Elsewhere we have also referred to the great market potential of the wide expanse of lower Hamlet Court Road in a brilliant document by the Institute of Place Management called ‘Markets Matter’. This can be seen here:

In short, the regeneration of all of commercial Hamlet Court Road into a new, mixed use but economy focussed live, work and play environment could not only see the complete uplifting of opportunity for all and a massive improvement to this socially deprived part of the town (2nd decile on the Indices of Deprivation) but lead the way in Southend’s own 2050 aspirations.

We want to see all of commercial Hamlet Court Road benefit from the improved building quality, improved homes and improved businesses – within the identity that is Westcliff-on-Sea.

Where Hamlet Court Road is right now is the sum of the past, especially the recent past. A past devoid of heritage attention that is now desperately needed, but where a future offers a golden opportunity. To reiterate, we know that the decision to designate the area rests lawfully on the architectural and historical special interest and how this has been assessed but the potential for heritage led economic benefit is nothing less than far reaching.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Atkinson MSc FRSA


Hamlet Court Conservation Forum