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Vibrant diversity replaced by dull uniformity in EH conservation drive

As its chief executive, Simon Thurley, points out, combating the 'parlous'state of conservation at local level is a keystone of English Heritage's current agenda (page 28). It is thanks to its conviction that conservation can drive regeneration that a terrace of Victorian shopfronts in a deprived-but-ripe-for-recovery quarter of east London has got itself a smart new look. The only catch is that the 'before' is more interesting than the 'after'.

An energetic blaze of colour and typography, signifying the diversity of the various establishments and cultural influences which constitute so many UK streets (page 38), has been replaced with a uniform language which, at first glance, suggests an entire row of National Trust (or English Heritage) trinket shops (page 39).

There is little doubt that the tenants are delighted.

Then again, there is little proof that they are enamoured of the aesthetic approach in particular, or simply the fact that their properties have been upgraded at virtually no cost - almost 50 per cent of the funding came from EH, while the Local Environmental Strategy Fund put forward a similar sum.The transition from colourful jumble to conservation green-and-gold is just part of a more thorough overhaul which has saved the tenants considerable inconvenience and expense. Roofs have been mended, walls repaired, cornices have been restored. And, as residents Mr and Mrs Patel report, the project has encouraged individuals to spend their own money on other essential repairs.Would the tenants have been any less delighted had the public sector been prepared to fund a similar level of fabric repairs while leaving the distinctive shop frontages intact?

As an advertisement for communal endeavour, it is beyond reproach.And it is important not to underestimate the importance of EH's role as a both catalyst and enabler for an initiative which could easily have collapsed under the weight of mixed ownerships and tenancies. But it is sad that the strategy of regeneration through conservation necessitates replacing vibrant diversity with identikit Victoriana. The Forest Gate project is said to be a first.We can only hope that it will also be the last.

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