Townscape Today- Challenges and Opportunities

There are over 9000 Conservation Areas and since 1967 their designation has been the key to trying to protect the most attractive and historic parts of our towns. Have they been successful and is the appearance of Conservation Areas improving or deteriorating?

EHTF stimulated a vigorous debate with the publication of Townscape in Trouble, which highlighted the 'rapid deterioration and butchery' of fine Victorian residential areas and historic shopping streets. It pointed to a lack of strong planning control over permitted development and the demolition of distinctive architectural features. Since then, planning control in Conservation Areas has weakened (mainly due to the Shimizu and South Lakeland decisions) and Councils have to come to rely on education, grants and media heritage campaings to protect historic areas. The Government responded to 'T in T' by introducing Article 4(2) Directions (which can be used to stop inappropriate alterations (that are normally permitted development). However, their declaration is patchy, possibly due to fears of compensation claims and extra workloads and their limits do not give control over minor demolition. Indeed, there is more planning control over the appearance of an inner city speculative development than over a distinctive house in a Conservation Area. It seems as though Conservation Areas remain the Cinderella of the planning system.

As sustainability and heritage become accepted as critical to sustainable communities, will the Heritage Protection Bill redress the imbalance and will Conservation Areas be given the legal safeguards they need?

Gordon Summerville, Retired Head of Planning, Scarborough Borough Council and co-author of 'Townscape in Trouble'