A scheme aimed at preserving and regenerating the historic heart of Sunderland is one of only ten in the country to secure special status.
The area, which takes in Fawcett Street, the Old Sunderland and Riverside conservation areas and High Street East and West is the first in the region to be granted Heritage Action Zone status (HAZ).
The scheme has been set up by Historic England with the aim of unlocking the potential of historic areas to help them achieve economic growth.
Sunderland hopes to use its Heritage Action Zone status to address Heritage at Risk in the area through a programme of building conservation projects. It also plans to link this heritage-led regeneration to other strategic regeneration schemes in the area at the same time as using it to strengthen the area’s links with cultural initiatives such as the Tall Ships' 2018 and the city’s City of Culture bid.
The area covered by the Heritage Action Zone includes Fawcett Street, High Street West (east of Fawcett Street) and High Street East.
Sunderland City Council Cabinet Secretary Coun Mel Speding said: "We're delighted to have secured Heritage Action Zone status for the area around Fawcett Street and High Street East and West. These streets were once at the heart of the city's commercial area but declined as the city centre gradually moved west.
"Sadly this has left behind a legacy of key historic buildings in poor condition, with several vacant and derelict. But this scheme provides a real opportunity to unlock the potential of this important historic area."
The Heritage Action Zone also includes all of the Old Sunderland and Riverside conservation areas which are currently on Historic England’s Heritage-at-Risk Register.
And the council is hoping the status will unlock funds that could be used to restore these areas to the point where they are no longer at risk. It will also provide activities, events and accessible publications to promote the heritage of Old Sunderland.
Carol Pyrah, Planning Director for Historic England North East said: "Historic England recognises the unique stories and history connected to the Sunderland High Streets HAZ area.
"Through working collaboratively with Sunderland City Council and partners on this ambitious project, we hope to unlock the potential of this rich heritage to contribute to the wider regeneration of the city."
The Heritage Action Zone will be led by the City Council in partnership with Historic England, the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, Churches Conservation Trust, and Sunderland Heritage Forum.
Other private sector and third party sector partners and stakeholders will also be closely involved in its delivery. Following the development of a delivery plan over the next few months, the Heritage Action Zone is expected to begin in April and to run for five years.