Proximity to local heritage boosts life satisfaction & wellbeing, worth £29billion annually

Research by Historic England showed that the overall wellbeing value for people’s day-to-day encounters with heritage is estimated to be worth £29 billion annually, providing an average individual benefit of £515.

The Hill, Burford, England

Follows similar approaches within environmental economics, which have evidenced wellbeing gains from being close to urban green spaces in Germany and Britain, the research investigated the impacts of different types of heritage, including listed buildings (Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II buildings), scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, battlefields and world heritage sites.

Historic England’s ‘Heritage Capital and Wellbeing: Examining the Relationship Between Heritage Density and Life Satisfaction‘ report revealed that, similarly to the positive impact of green spaces on wellbeing, the very presence of nearby historic places benefits residents’ quality of life, whether or not they participate in heritage activities.

The analysis demonstrates that Grade II listed buildings, which represent 92% of England’s historic places on the National Heritage List for England are the main drivers of life satisfaction increases. This suggests that it is proximity to a wealth of everyday local heritage are responsible for driving most higher life satisfaction, rather than the presence of rare, exceptional historic places. Hence, the inclusion of local heritage houses in villages and towns for example. This research is unique as no previous studies have quantified the wellbeing value of the very existence of heritage.

Importantly, the findings reveal a statistically significant, positive relationship between the density of local heritage assets and self-reported life satisfaction, after adjusting for various socio-economic, neighbourhood and regional effects. The research estimates the average individual benefit of cultural heritage near individual residences to be £515, with a collective WELLBY (Wellbeing Adjusted Life Year) value of £29 billion across England. This quantification illustrates the significant aggregate economic and wellbeing benefits of cultural heritage. One can only imagine the synergic socio-economic and wellbeing impacts of historic houses with (front) gardens for society at large…

The research results offer insights for policymakers on the significance of heritage conservation and its potential to improve quality of life, highlighting the intrinsic value of cultural heritage in contributing to societal wellbeing and providing a compelling argument for its preservation and integration into society development and wellbeing strategies. Historic England’s research considers other factors that influence life satisfaction including socioeconomic characteristics, local prosperity and health data. The findings show that even after accounting for such factors, heritage has a significant role to play in improving wellbeing, demonstrating the importance of conserving and protecting historic places.

Given the socio-economic value of cultural heritage buildings, policy makers may need to address policies to aid preservation of listed buildings – such as reinstating VAT relief for listed buildings to stimulate heritage conservation. Apart from the significantly higher maintenance and insurance costs, the cost of restoration and/or renovation of historic houses is substantial. Especially so, when the building requires extensive remedial works or the use of specialist materials and craftsmanship to satisfy the conditions of listed building consent, which if subject to VAT adds to the substantial financial burden and may inhibit the required works – possibly putting the building at risk. Considering that new build works are exempt from VAT, there is currently a greater financial incentive to build something new than to restore or upgrade existing buildings. Even more important, considering the employment opportunities in traditional building skills and the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions through the re-use of buildings. Reusing established residential (and industrial) infrastructure can also help to prevent the ceaseless encroachment of the greenbelt and valuable natural/agricultural land.

Lord Neil Mendoza, Chairman of Historic England and Chair of the Culture Heritage and Capital Board at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said:

“For the first time, we have robust economic evidence that heritage makes a significant contribution to people’s quality of life. We all value the role that green spaces play in ensuring wellbeing; this new ground-breaking research shows us that the everyday local heritage found in towns and cities across England plays a comparable and valuable role.

This is the first research to quantify the wellbeing value of the very existence of heritage, whether or not people participate in heritage activities. For example, the value of £515 a year whether someone interacts with the small civic museum or village church, or not.

This Historic England research, funded by the Culture Heritage Capital programme, is supported by DCMS and HM Treasury. It is a vital partnership that will help inform policy to support the conservation of the much-loved historic places and buildings that surround us, boosting national wellbeing for current and future generations.”