Understanding Economic Heritage Values

Professional Associations


How do we capture the various values of cultural built heritage (places and buildings), especially in the context of change?

Value to Owners

According to a recently released IHBC publication entitled: Conservation Professional Practice Principles, May 2017 – for most owners, their primary motivation for taking on a heritage property is to use or occupy it as a home, business premises or recreational facility. For a significant proportion of heritage property owners, investment value can also be an important consideration. For commercial property owners, this would be the prime motivation. For home owner/ occupiers, it is perhaps more likely to be a secondary motivation for many. The actual heritage value may or may not be a factor in a prospective purchaser’s choice to take on a heritage asset. It is essential to understand these key motivations. They shape the future of heritage and the historic environment, both for professionals working for building owners and for those involved in negotiations with them.

One of the key challenges for specialist conservation and heritage professionals is to find solutions that reconcile heritage values and considerations with the need for places and buildings to adapt so as to be functional, convenient and genuinely sustainable. For example, offering an appropriate quality of accommodation for those that own, occupy or use heritage properties is important in securing economically viable uses, essential for their survival.

Most owners work within the statutory framework for heritage, though there are also cases of deliberate neglect, which may need to be addressed through appropriate market or statutory processes. Working with owners requires skills in negotiation and persuasion, in addition to explaining or applying statutory enforcement.Leichhardt Town Hall at night

Fig 1. Leichhardt Town Hall at night – Leichhardt, NSW- Australia

Utility and Investment Value

The IHBC document emphasises that most historic places and buildings are in everyday use and so possess utility value. They have economic and social value as work space, places to live, community facilities, recreational space, infrastructure and numerous other uses. It is through their use that they help to generate growth and support the needs for everyday living. Utility value can be closely related to commercial value. Utility value is also related to the socio-economic values of heritage in the present. Quite simply, many of the uses accommodated by historic places and buildings provide social and economic benefit to society. Property can offer high returns as an investment.

Understanding of the property and land economy in an area is of fundamental importance when considering the viability of heritage.

Enterprise and Growth

The IHBC document stresses that historic places and buildings play a key role in the regeneration of cities, towns and rural areas. Historic buildings have often undergone repeated adaptations and have proved to be durable and flexible to changing needs. In areas of market failure and deprivation, heritage can be a key to regeneration. Low rentals in declining industrial or commercial historic areas can provide flexible and affordable floor space. This is essential to supporting new and small businesses, creative industries, innovation and knowledge-based employment and social enterprises.

Such areas exist on the periphery of many town and city centres and can be an incubator for enterprise, sometimes leading to dramatic physical and economic transformations. Area enhancement or regeneration initiatives and grant schemes to improve and enhance heritage can help to create confidence, improve image, attract investment and act as a catalyst to reverse economic decline and trigger restructuring.

Heritage-led schemes provide a different kind of economic development, and are distinct from comprehensive redevelopment. In particular, historic areas are often closely related to creative industries and knowledge-based enterprise, including a diverse range of micro and small businesses.

The historic environment creates places where people choose to live, work, invest and spend recreation time. There is a direct relationship between the quality of the built environment and an area’s ability to attract investment and achieve economic development. A well-maintained historic environment helps to project a positive image, create investor confidence, attract high-value jobs and improve competitiveness. Historic building refurbishments and conversions in small settlements and rural areas have helped to accommodate new uses, facilitating rural economic diversification.

 Prosperity in Cities, Towns and Village Centres

The IHBC document extols the virtues of high-quality historic environments which can serve as a focus to attract shoppers and visitors, enhancing the viability of town and city centres. Places with high quality heritage resources can have a competitive advantage, commercially. Historic buildings and areas tend to accommodate independent retailers and other businesses, helping to avoid the creation of ‘clone towns’.

Historic areas often provide the focus for leisure facilities, from theatres and art installations to restaurants and bars. Historic buildings, areas and waterways can serve as catalysts for the repopulation of inner-city areas and development of new and sometimes more specialised housing, retail and leisure markets.


Lastly, the IHBC document shows that historic places and buildings attract visitors and support tourism, local and from oversees. Tourism is an important sector of the economy. In many areas, local businesses are highly reliant on visitor footfall and such footfall creates business, provides jobs and helps the local economy – hence the sage rationale for conserving heritage buildings and precincts.

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21
4 October 2017


Conservation Professional Practice Principles, IHBC – May 2017

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