Thursday, 2 April 2009

Conservation Areas - too little, too late?

English Heritage has launched a campaign about Conservation Areas.

It's too late just to announce a survey, English Heritage – launch a cull.

Simon Thurley, English Heritage's chief executive, mused...

"Are sash windows still gracing house-fronts or are conservation areas suffering from a plague of plastic ones? Are front gardens being lost to car parking? Are the hearts of our most historic towns and suburban high streets under threat from the wrong kind of change?"

Sorry Dr T, it's all too little too late in my opinion, and certainly I have already joined up and joined in with news of what's happened to diminish the attractiveness of my local Conservation Area, including the spoiling of listed buildings.

A start would have been for you to press really, really hard for the overturning of the Shimizu judgment of course. It has been used by many a developer and local authority, seemingly unable to read the details thoroughly, to allow all manner of destruction short of total demolition.

Not that total demolition seems to be much of a problem with historic buildings in Conservation Areas in my neck of the woods, either, just claim 'community need', pay a surveyor/ 'historic buildings consultant' to say the building is rubbish, and there you go.

Or claim that a housing development which will ruin the green setting is needed as some will be 'affordable' and permission pings back with little fuss.

First National Survey of Conservation Areas at Risk

England has some 9,300 Conservation Areas, historic parts of cities, towns, suburbs and villages designated by local authorities to protect their special character. But what condition are they in? Are they cherished through a close partnership of council and residents? Or are they at risk from neglect, decay and inappropriate development?

Conservation Areas vary enormously. They include, for example, the Belgravia Conservation Area in central London, the industrial heritage of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the fishing village of Clovelly in North Devon and the Victorian People’s Park Conservation Area in Halifax. The heart of a historic town might be a Conservation Area. So too might be a street of well-preserved 1930s semi-detached houses or an isolated group of farm buildings. Details of local Conservation Areas are held by councils and can usually be found on their websites.

English Heritage has asked every Local Authority in the country to fill in a questionnaire for each of their Conservation Areas as part of the first nationwide census of the condition of this important element of our heritage. The results will be announced and a campaign will be launched on 23rd June to help councils, communities and individual residents to care for these special places.

Conservation Areas identified as at risk will be added to the Heritage at Risk register, published annually by English Heritage. Each year new categories are added to the register in an attempt to create a Domesday Book of every aspect of England’s threatened heritage. The register helps everyone to prioritise action, direct resources to areas of need and focus attention on saving the best of the past for the future. Eventually it will make England the first country in the world to have a comprehensive picture of its heritage at risk and the necessary understanding to save it.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Conservation Areas play a vital role in protecting the most important historic places in England from ill-considered change. Designated by local authorities after widespread local consultation, millions of us live in or near one, go to work or shop in one or visit them for leisure. Thanks to help from hundreds of Local Authority Conservation Officers all over the country, this survey will give us a true picture of the condition of these important, historic places.

“Are sash windows still gracing house-fronts or are Conservation Areas suffering from a plague of plastic ones? Are front gardens being lost to car parking? Are the hearts of our most historic towns and suburban high streets under threat from the wrong kind of change? Does the existence of an active local amenity society make a difference?

“We will be analysing the results carefully so that we can help to provide answers to questions like these and propose solutions where Conservation Areas are in decline. This is a strategic, national campaign and English Heritage won’t be able to get involved in individual issues at a local level. However, we will be providing residents and local groups with information and advice and explaining how they can help by working constructively with local authorities to manage the places they value most. There is a lot that residents can do themselves and we will support Conservation Officers in their tireless work to halt decay and inappropriate change before it is too late.”

Are you a member of a local amenity society or residents’ group?

Many Conservation Areas have local amenity societies or residents’ groups which perform a valuable role in protecting the special character of the place where they live for everyone’s benefit. English Heritage is keen to hear from as many local groups as possible so that they can keep them informed of the Conservation Areas at Risk campaign.
They also want to hear about major successes and might feature your local amenity society in their campaign booklet and on their website. To receive information and get involved in the campaign, please visit

Conservation Areas at Risk

English Heritage’s new campaign will reveal how many of England’s 9,300 Conservation Areas are at risk and from what. We have asked every Local Authority in the country to fill in a questionnaire on the condition of their Conservation Areas and will be publishing the results in our Heritage at Risk Register on 23rd June.

Get involved!

If you are worried about a proliferation of plastic windows, over-sized extensions or buildings being left derelict or even demolished, sign up below. We will keep you informed of the campaign and in June we'll send you a campaign pack providing lots of information on how residents and councils can work together to save these special historic places for the benefit of the whole community.

Designated by local authorities to protect their special character, Conservation Areas can be historic parts of cities, towns, suburbs and villages. The heart of market town might be a Conservation Area, so too might be a street of well-preserved 1930s semi-detached houses or an isolated group of farm buildings.
Register Now
Are there local success stories or challenges you would like to tell us about?Unfortunately, we cannot get involved in every local issue but the information you provide will give us a better picture of how things really are across the country and help us raise the profile of Conservation Areas on local and national government agenda.

Well, that would be good, but I think the horse vanished from the stable long ago, and the bolt shoved firmly in place; a vast pot of cash would be useful to try to persuade people that removal of unsightly plastic doors and windows would help Conservation Areas hugely, but many would resist and the results would be patchy.

I recall Caius Plinius telling us of a problem in his patch in his blog not so long ago. I would say that is not untypical.

Here's my previous post, Trash the Plastic:

And how about this one, Dr T? Haltwhistle War Memorial Hospital. Major historic building in a Conservation Area, it's on the SAVE Britain's Heritage Buildings at Risk Register:

as Northumbria NHS Trust is ignoring national planning policy and pushing ahead with plans to demolish it, it can't be retained and re-used as, apparently, the windows are draughty.

Well, no problem - just uPVC them like everyone else does!


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