Why two historic Herefordshire town centres are ‘at risk’

Local representatives have tried to explain why two Herefordshire towns’ historic centres have been on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register for over a decade.

The latest edition of this key record of national built heritage describes the conservation areas of Ross-on-Wye and Kington as “very bad” and “deteriorating”.

Both have consistently appeared on the register since 2009. Yet both areas are rich in heritage, with Ross’s containing 153 listed buildings, Kington’s, 124.

OTHER NEWS:

Louis Stark, the county council member for Ross West, said the town has suffered “systematic under-investment under previous administrations, while a large chunk of any investment been centred on Hereford and its environs”.

But he pointed out: “When you are facing a funding gap of some £60 million a year, historic infrastructure might not be top of the county’s priorities when set against the need to maintain essential everyday services.”

Previous Ross councillors also passed up the chance to bid for Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone funding, from which Leominster successfully claimed some £3.6 million for town centre improvements earlier this year, Coun Stark pointed out.

RELATED STORIES:

Ross town councillor Jane Roberts said the town council has done what it can, for example strengthening protection for the conservation area under the town’s development plan, and taking control of and reviving the Market House, a town-centre landmark, and the Old Chapel on Cantilupe Road.

But the town has “very limited powers and budget” compared to those of Herefordshire Council, she said.

Nick Joyce, a buildings conservation consultant to Herefordshire Council, said: “The funding is extremely difficult – we are all doing what we can with limited resources.”

Meanwhile the council has lately been “inundated” with planning and list building consent applications, meaning work to conserve existing listed buildings “has had to be put aside”, he said.

He believes rethinking what town centres are for could help address the problem of under-investment.

“Retail is changing so we need fewer shops than we have,” he said. “We need to get people back living more in town centres, which I think will happen.”

Many shops in older market towns were previously residences, which could be reinstated, he said. “That would help the remaining smaller shops. We are also seeing more applications for flats over shops.”

This has remained the norm in parts of continental Europe, which “ seem to this better”, he said.

“Kington is lovely, and the fact that it hasn’t historically had much investment means the fabric of the town centre is largely unaltered.”

Kington’s county councillor and town council were approached for comment.

Hereford Times