Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Conservation Areas at Risk - well, that was a waste of time!

EH images of Noel Park, Haringay Conservation Area

English Heritage has today published its list of Conservation Areas at Risk, its supposed 'big campaign' for 2009.

As I said when EH launched it - it's too little too late.


Here's my blog on the subject from April:

And I note that, although I assiduously filled in the form from EH pointing out the problems with my local Conservation Area (see pictures from April), it's not on the list. It seems that only those identified by local authorities have been included. It also seems that only 75% of local authorities responded.

Possibly my own local authority, which has recently vanished since the county became a unitary authority, was too ashamed to reply, or couldn't be bothered, or didn't perceive any problems with almost every building being fitted with uPVC doors and windows (even listed buildings) which EH states is the no 1 problem. Of course, without any legislation in place to prevent the fitting of these, then there's nothing illegal being carried out.

Therefore many of the 'worst' areas may not have made it onto the list, and residents and local authorities will be patting themselves on the back and thinking all is fine. I also note some Conservation Areas on the list which I know and certainly don't perceive to have the number of problems as the one I nominated.

Of course, since the Shimizu judgment, many local authorities feel they have their hands tied in enforcing anything with regard to Conservation Areas. Nothing has yet been done to reverse the effects of that, the Heritage Protection Bill not being carried through to become law, although it's possible that it would not have required a change in law to clarify the judgment. However, the lack of political will was possibly the block.

I also wonder how many Conservation Officers are now feeling that a hand grenade has landed on their desks this morning? Those who conscientiously filled in the form, only to find that their patch is on the 'name and shame' list, and are as I type wondering when the summons from On High will arrive, demanding some explanation. Seems that as long as you binned the survey (and it may be that those local authorities which don't employ any conservation staff didn't even glance at it) it's all going to be OK.

What has EH now offered in the way of cash, tools, legislation and, most of all, support to the overworked and struggling conservation staff to help carry forward the conservation of Conservation Areas?

So, a waste of time then English Heritage, and no matter how many Article Four Directions are now issued, the plastic windows already installed are here to stay.

Possibly Dr Thurley should get out of the Terracotta Tower more, and not just to make TV programmes. Then he could have a little more of an eye on the ball (and not just when demonstrating 'the squint test').

He's here, in Conservation Areas: The Movie

From the BBC web news blurb:

Many conservation areas 'at risk'

More than 700 conservation areas in England are at risk of neglect, decay or damaging changes, English Heritage has warned. Its survey of local authorities found plastic windows and doors, poorly maintained roads and street clutter were the biggest threats to the areas.

English Heritage is urging more to be done to save these places of special character which make England distinct.

It wants residents, local groups and councils to work together more closely.

In total there are 9,300 conservation areas in England from historic towns and villages and 1930 suburbs to rural idylls and industrial workers' cottages. Each is designated by the local council for protection so its character and appearance can be preserved for local heritage.

But English Heritage's first ever conservation area survey found poorly considered home improvements and ill-thought out council work were putting 727 of these areas at risk.

All local authorities in England were asked about the conditions of their conservation areas, and 75% of them completed the questionnaire.

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "Millions of us live in, work in, pass through or visit conservation areas. They are... the local heritage which gives England its distinctiveness.

"These are difficult economic times but our research shows that conservation areas do not need time-consuming or costly measures, just prioritising as places people cherish, the commitment of the whole council and good-management by residents and councils alike.

Plastic windows and door: 83% of areas affected
Poor roads and pavements: 60%
Street clutter: 45%
Loss of garden walls, fences, hedges: 43%
Unsightly satellite dishes: 38%
Traffic calming measures: 36%
Alterations to front, roofs, chimneys: 34%
Unsympathetic extensions: 31%
Advertisements: 23%
Neglected green spaces: 18%

"Well-cared for, they encourage good neighbourliness, give a boost to the local economy and will continue to be a source of national pride and joy for generations to come."

He said he wanted to see councils make more use of their powers to protect "small but important original details such as windows, doors and front gardens".

"Lose these and slowly but inevitably you lose the character and the history that made the area special in the first place," he said.

He called for council departments, including highways and environmental services, and health and education teams, to work together closely to take better care of public areas.

He also urged residents to play a greater role by commenting on planning applications, helping prepare lists of local historic buildings or doing street clutter audits...

The entire exercise has made English Heritage look out of date and out of touch, and I now wonder why I bothered.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot to demolish a major historic building in the centre of my local Conservation Area, but as the destruction is planned by the National Health Trust, it seems that's exempt.

Hospitals and schools, Dr Thurley, that's what you need to be worrying about. Interesting buildings, handsome, well-built and suitable for re-use, but not always in Conservation Areas or on Local Lists, they are vanishing into landfill.
Here's one needlessly gone, Clarence Street School, Bolton:

and this, in order to build the Richard Rose Academy in Carlisle, despite a major campaign by local people, joined by SAVE and the Victorian Society (watch the video and weep):

Another sad loss by fire:

When the fire broke out this week the developer had failed to secure planning permission for residential apartments. The fabulous mill building not only lies within the Strutts Park Conservation Area but was also positioned on the edge of the boundary of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, designated in 2001. The allocation of this area recognized the importance of Derby as the birthplace of the factory system and its pivotal role in the industrial revolution of the 19th century...

Totally gone now, the fire was so severe the building collapsed the following day.


UPDATE: Architect's Journal report:

Richard Younger-Ross MP, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Heritage: ‘Unless the Government implements firm proposals and introduces additional conservation resource to address the shortcomings in the Heritage sector, there is a serious risk that in the next few years more of our precious heritage will face devastating deterioration.’

Meanwhile in Norwich, it seems one person isn't impressed:

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council,
said: “We absolutely agree that Mile Cross is a very important area. It has got excellent examples of early council buildings.However, English Heritage do not seem to have grasped that fact that this is a place where real people have to live and we have to draw a balance between the lives they lead, where they want their homes to be warm and their windows to be watertight and they need somewhere to park their cars near their houses. We are working, and we are happy to work with English Heritage, trying to achieve a solution. But this is expensive and will need additional money. The bottom line is that if the people there want PVC windows, then we will provide them.”

From the Bath Chron, comments section:
Just because City of Bath's conservation areas (66% of Bath is designated as conservation area) do not appear on the at-risk register doesn't mean that these areas do not suffer from the problems identified - poorly maintained roads and pavements, street clutter and the impact of advertisements. There is a need for constant vigilance by both the Council and others when inappropropriate planning applications are submitted, and it would help if there were more specific Council policies, such as a more use of Article 4 directions as suggested by English Heritage, to protect the small but crucial architectural details in the conservation areas. Meanwhile we note that Bathampton and Batheaston Conservation areas- currently threatened by the proposed Eastern Park and Ride - are now designated 'at risk'. This should firm up English Heritage's resolve in advising the Government that there is a need to call-in the P&R application for public enquiry.
Caroline Kay, Chief Executive, Bath Preservation Trust, Bath

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