Speaking at the Thames Gateway Forum today in London, EH chief executive Simon Thurley called on ministers and decision makers to put investment in heritage at the top of their list of priorities.
He told an invited audience at the launch of a new book - Growing Places, which records the 'success' of heritage-led regeneration across Essex, Kent and east London - that the older building stock must be used as a weapon to counter economic deprivation.
He said: 'To get the most out of the Thames Gateway in the future, we must care about our heritage, and invest in it. Our heritage is a priceless heirloom,' he said. 'If you get a chip in a Ming vase, you don't just throw it away and then nip out to Ikea for a replacement. You restore it.
'We want to strengthen the historic character of places and use it to create a distinct focus for new communities.
'That means fixing up the heirlooms, weeding out the rubbish and then working together to fill in the remaining gaps in the built environment.
'And it really works - the Thames Gateway's Georgian and Victorian high streets and Medieval ports were all but lost under layers of grime and dereliction. But now, through investment in its historic hubs, the area is rediscovering its soul.
Growing Placesis available free from English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1181.