Government policies aimed at the alleviation of poverty and social exclusion have been moving toward a multi-faceted approach that includes community capacity building and collaborative partnerships. This implies greater community consultation and the involvement of public and private institutions and the voluntary sector in the democratic management of local affairs. While these are established theoretical concepts, implementing localised social policy and measuring the outcomes are notoriously difficult, particularly in historic urban areas where democratic decision making has the potential to conflict with the management of heritage value. Drawing on recent policy and academic literature, this paper explores the concept of social sustainability and the characteristics of its evaluation. The paper illustrates how social sustainability indicators favour multi-dimensional themes that support national political agendas. The tension between this and the rise of participatory governance is highlighted. The paper concludes with a suggested approach to the evaluation of social sustainability in historic urban environments.