Q: What exactly is English Heritage’s role re conservation areas?When do you get involved?

A: EH works with all Local Authorities in providing advice on the management of their conservation areas in many ways, including:

  • Being a statutory consultee for planning applications affecting a conservation area where the site area exceeds 1000 sq m. or the development would exceed 20m. in height;
  • In Greater London, being a statutory consultee for applications for conservation area consent to demolish buildings;
  • Providing advice on planning policies in the each local authority’s Local Development Framework, other planning documents such as development briefs, and character appraisals and management plans;
  • Entering into partnership with Local Authorities to fund area grant schemes for the repair and refurbishment of historic buildings or streetscape within conservation areas;
  • Working on regeneration schemes such as Housing Market Renewal areas where we have carried out research into the historical development of an area.
  • Producing two documents for local authorities: Guidance on the management of conservation areas and Guidance on conservation area appraisals.

Q: How do you expect local authorities with lots of conservation areas to do Appraisals and Management Plans for them all?

A: There are strategic approaches that can be considered. In Aylesbury Vale District Council which has over 120 conservation areas, a District wide Conservation Management Plan Strategy has been developed which has identified issues that are common to all of the conservation areas and allows the council to produce more targeted action plans to address issues that are specific to individual areas. The intention is that the strategy itself will become a supplementary planning document (SPD) which simplifies the environmental appraisal issues that can be encountered if you have to produce many individual management plans.

Q: Can English Heritage fund councils to help them do Conservation Area Character Appraisals?

A: English Heritage expects local authorities to have Conservation Area Character Appraisals in place, which until recently were required as one of the Government’s Best Value indicators. Where an authority has struggled with its conservation areas but is committed to their improvement and asks for English Heritage assistance, we will consider grant aiding work including area appraisals as part of our capacity building programme, prior to providing funding through an area grant scheme. An example is the Community Heritage Initiative Project, or CHIP which the SE Region sponsored in partnership with Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey. This two year project used EH funding to appoint a heritage consultant to facilitate and enable local communities to produce appraisals of their own conservation areas. As a direct result of the project, four conservation area appraisals were published and the local authority agreed to establish and fund a programme of appraisals for the remainder of its conservation areas. The project saw local communities developing research and recording projects inspired by their appraisal work and the CHIP project led to the council receiving recognition for its community engagement from the Audit Commission.

Q: What can English Heritage do as our council simply says it doesn’t have enough conservation staff to cope with minor issues like managing its conservation areas?

A: English Heritage works with all local authorities to help them manage the historic environment in their area. If we are made aware of a local authority that says it has not got the resources to do what is a duty under the 1990 Town & Country Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, we will work with them to see what can be done to alleviate the problem.

Q: How can English Heritage expect residents and local authorities to spend money on conservation areas in the current financial climate? Aren’t there more pressing needs?

A: It need not be a question of spending more money but instead of thinking carefully about actively managing the area and what you do or don’t do to your property. Spending a little money on regular maintenance and keeping the original features and character of your home will help it maintain its value where as spending more money on some major alterations may have the opposite effect. For local authorities, this campaign is about helping them to prioritise resources to protect and improve the places which make a difference to people’s lives.