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The importance of heritage to the local economy

  • by JW

“Using the historic environment as an asset, and giving it new life, has been one of the cornerstones of the economic and social revival of our towns and cities.”


The Sid Valley has a lot of heritage assets:

Celebrating Sidmouth’s heritage – Vision Group for Sidmouth

In fact, Sidmouth has more listed buildings than any other part of Devon, except the county town:

East Devon’s local heritage list – Vision Group for Sidmouth


How can all this be measured?

Heritage Conservation and the Local Economy

Heritage conservation does not have a value.

Heritage conservation has multiple values: cultural, aesthetic, educational, environmental, social, historical, and others. A more recent addition to this litany of values is the economic value of heritage conservation.

For years, this contributing component of value was considered too crass and too demeaning to the underlying importance of the historic resources to merit serious discussion. Even today there are heritage conservation purists who dismiss the measurement and advocacy for historic preservation on economic grounds as degrading and insulting to the metaphysical, immeasurable qualities and importance of humankind’s built patrimony.

And in the long run, they are probably right. In the long run, the economic impact of heritage conservation is far less important that its educational, environmental, cultural, aesthetic, and social impacts. In the long run, none of us particularly cares about the number of jobs created in the building of Angkor Wat or the tax revenues generated from the piazzas of Florence. In the long run those other values of heritage conservation are more important than the economic value. But as the great British economist John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run we’re all dead.”

In the short run, however, many of those who have the most influence on what happens to our heritage resources – property owners, members of parliament, bankers, investors – do care about the economic aspects of heritage buildings. It is often through the door of economic impact that those decision-makers become advocates for heritage conservation on other, more important grounds.

Thus many heritage conservation organizations are increasingly making the economic case. Europa Nostra, the pan-European federation of heritage conservation groups, in a paper entitled Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe notes, “Cultural heritage has multiple benefits of Europe today”[1]. Many of those benefits are economic.

Studies over the last decade have identified the five major measurables of the economic impacts of heritage conservation: 1) jobs and household income; 2) center city revitalization; 3) heritage tourism; 4) property values; and 5) small business incubation.

Heritage Conservation and the Local Economy


Certainly Historic England thinks so:

Heritage and the Economy

The historic environment has a close connection to economic activity. A great many of our jobs and enterprises are dependent on, attracted to or based in historic buildings and spaces.

With more here:

Investing in the historic environment can successfully increase footfall.

Evaluation evidence from the Derby Partnership Scheme in Conservation Areas (PSiCA) shows that while average footfall on high streets around the nation dropped by 26% between 2008 and 2013, the Derby PSiCA areas reversed a spiral of decline through heritage led regeneration and saw footfall growth between 12% to 15% in the same period (Anarchitecture, 2017)

Two thirds (34%) of domestic tourists cited being able to visit a historic building or monument as their ‘sole reason’ or a ‘very important reason’ why they took their domestic holiday or short break. This increases to 63% for day visitors.

Heritage and the Economy 2019

A commentator points to earlier studies which show that visitors and residents are willing to pay more for all sorts of things when it come to the ‘heritage’ component of areas – which in turn feeds into higher rates payable to the local council:

HERITAGE COUNTS 2017: Heritage and the Economy

And more from another English Heritage report:

Using the historic environment as an asset, and giving it new life, has been one of the cornerstones of the economic and social revival of our towns and cities. (Deloitte 2017)

People spend more in their local economy after investment in the historic environment. In areas that had received investment in the historic environment, approximately one in five visitors in a survey of 1,000 stated they spent more in an area after investment in the historic environment than they did before. One in four businesses stated that the historic environment investment had directly led to an increase in business turnover. (AMION and Locum Consulting 2010)

There are over 5.1 million pre-1919* residential properties in England, representing over a fifth (21%) of all dwellings in England (VOA 2017). The on-going need to repair, maintain and restore these historic buildings creates strong dependencies between heritage and the construction and development sectors, often requiring specialist heritage skills, knowledge and expertise.


And as a commentator points out, looking at just one of the above points, good quality jobs are very much involved:

“If we lose our historic buildings, we lose the skilled employment of people who maintain them. (There are not many builders who can repair cob and traditional lime plaster.)”


Finally, during the current pandemic, these things have not gone unnoticed:

Covid-19: Heritage and Tourism Sector – Monday 27 April 2020 – Hansard – UK Parliament