Pressures on historic heritage


Changing use and tension between cultural and economic values

For many historic sites, the current use of the site may itself be significant in a heritage context. Churches, community halls and post offices fall into this category. Pressures for change of use may arise in response to, for example, altered economic conditions, changing demographics or new commercial opportunities. Increasingly, adaptation is seen as an appropriate response; however, successful adaptation requires an understanding of the nature of the heritage values of place. Sometimes a new use is compatible with the heritage value of a place (see Box HER13), but not always.

For some historic sites, direct tension arises between cultural and economic values, with greater emphasis often placed on economic values. Australian State Heritage Officials observed that there is an increase in ‘contested’ heritage, covering both conflict between different heritage values, and conflict between heritage values and other (nonheritage) priorities, as evidenced by an increasing number of applications for protection orders.

Loss of traditional heritage trade skills

The threat posed by declining heritage trade skills was prominently identified in the 'Heritage' chapter of SoE 2011 (Godden Mackay Logan 2010, SoE Committee 2011). Although there have been some subsequent success stories (see Box HER14), overall, there has been a further decline in heritage trades training and available resources (DoEE 2017a), which is recognised as a threat to the integrity and authenticity of historic heritage places (e.g. WHAM 2017).

Although not as serious as the current situation in relation to heritage trades, there are also emerging issues in the supply of trained and experienced heritage professionals. It may also be that specialist skills in the heritage sector remain undervalued, and that works and projects at heritage places are not always guided or undertaken using an appropriate degree of professional expertise.

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Pressures on historic heritage. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0