Heritage at Risk in Southport
What do a vacant shop, a dilapidated building and an untidy site in a conservation area have in common?
They can all be classed as heritage at risk or perhaps as posing a risk to the historic built environment. In a similar way to loss of cultures or practices, either through innovation or social changes, our historic buildings are at risk through neglect, poor maintenance or underuse that affect their existence.
Southport’s unique streetscape
The Victorian era saw huge growth in British towns following industrialisation. Southport is no exception, promoting new understanding of social and health benefits from fresh air and sea water by establishing itself as a bathing resort and ultimately a seaside town. In contrast to the densely packed industry and housing of other northern towns, Southport’s evolution created an environment of interesting and eclectic buildings centred around the Promenade and Lord Street. The overall width of Lord Street allowed for verandahs to be added to shops, protecting visitors from the elements but also creating a unique streetscape that is not replicated anywhere else. Land reclamation enabled the creation of King’s Gardens and further public spaces were created from the original gardens of houses on the landward side of Lord Street.
Heritage is an asset
Historic England research identified that the historic character of where we live, work and play contributes to our lives and how we identify with that place. In a world where Southport is competing with other towns to attract visitors to boost the local economy, while maintaining a beautiful environment for residents, heritage is one of its greatest assets. The accumulation of notable buildings and a unique environment result in Lord Street and Promenade being Conservation Areas of special interest.
However, this is at constant risk through poor maintenance, long-term vacancy or inappropriate changes that alter the interesting features and character of historic buildings and conservation areas. The cumulative effect of neglected and abandoned historic buildings creates a gloomy town, meaning fewer visitors, less investment, and fewer opportunities for local people.
What is Sefton Council doing to help our heritage?
The Conservation and Heritage team at Sefton Council aim to address these different problems, providing guidance on planning applications and helping make the best use of empty historic buildings. For example, in Southport, several buildings are going through internal transformations that retain important features but create new uses other than retail which will breathe life into them and into the town more widely. The Southport Townscape Heritage project is helping businesses by providing grants for re-establishing traditional shopfronts that improve the streetscape.
Sefton Council demonstrate their commitment to making improvements by employing a Heritage at Risk Officer who works with owners to address maintenance issues that can quickly cause the deterioration of the fabric and structure of buildings and verandahs. They also identify opportunities to develop vacant or underused sites in conservation areas, guiding developers towards submitting applications that complement the existing character while meeting local needs.
The Heritage at Risk register
Historic England supports Local Authorities by producing an annual ‘Heritage At Risk Register’ which identifies the wide variety of listed buildings and sites that could be lost without intervention. Inclusion on the list can open opportunities for funding to address some of the problems as well as for guidance and support to find new uses. The funding support for the townscape work being achieved in Southport was in response to Lord Street and Promenade Conservation areas being judged heritage at risk.
Building for the future and our heritage
Southport’s streetscape is the result of 200 years of investment in new buildings to meet the needs of the time, mixed in with the old. With work on the new Marine Lake Events Centre in Southport starting this year and bringing huge investment into the town, there has never been a better time to celebrate and show off the wealth of special buildings and features that make up our unique historic environment.