Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter has been voted the best urban neighbourhood in the UK by top architects and designers.

The quarter’s mix of traditional heritage and community feel was praised by experts making it favourite over finalists, including Nottingham’s Lacemarket and Stockbridge in Edinburgh, in the Great Neighbourhood category of the annual Academy of Urbanism awards.

Judges were impressed by the area’s distinctive buildings, emphasis on small businesses and partnership between residents and traders. Dating back 250 years, the conservation area has more than 200 listed buildings, 400 jewellery businesses and 3,500 residents.

Andy Munro, operations director of the Jewellery Quarter Regeneration Partnership, said: “It’s great because it’s all about the quirkiness of the quarter and its authenticity. For example, unlike Nottingham, the Jewellery Quarter has retained its industry. The bottom line is that it’s full of character and is filled with characters. It is not a corporate, soulless place and it still makes 40 per cent of the UK’s jewellery.”

John Thompson, chairman of the Academy of Urbanism, a body which champions high-quality urban living, said: “The Jewellery Quarter is a unique area that has managed to keep its traditional manufacturing base of jewellery industry. It has resisted what other cities haven’t and hasn’t let inner-city redevelopment take over.

“What we really like is the slow-burn regeneration. There has not been great big plans but a careful nurturing of the jewellery industry over a long period of time and opportunities have been given to the small businesses. It has not been swamped by bars and cafes. A lot of the Jewellery Quarter is still to be regenerated but we’re confident this will be done over a longer period and there will continue to be a mix of people living and working in the quarter with a strong presence of family businesses.”

Judges liked the mix of heritage and the transformation of old factories into city living. Developments include the Derwent Foundry, Lucas works in Great Hampton Street and Thomas Walker.

The quarter also has more that 30 restaurants and bars and other central facilities including a police station, post office, supermarket and pharmacy - all in the vicinity of the Jewellery Quarter clock. There are also a number of medical practitioners and a health centre is planned for the bottom of Warstone Lane – which should be open by late 2009.

Jeff Green, chairman of the Jewellery Quarter Marketing Initiative, said the award was a huge boost to the area just before a £45,000 television advertising campaign promoting the area as a Christmas shopping destination.

Mr Green, who has worked in the trade for 62 years and runs family business Crystaline Jewellery and Manufacturing, said: “I agree wholeheartedly that regeneration over a long period and the mix of small family-run businesses and residential makes the quarter unique. We are proud of the fact that we have just launched our biggest-ever television advertising package. We have just launched our new Jewellery Quarter Guide and a new website. I think the different organisations in the quarter are working really well together.”