IHBC Yearbook 2010

r e v i e w 37 Challenges for Conservation Services in Planning Ian Mudie Local authority conservation services play a pivotal role in the development and regeneration of listed buildings and heritage environments. This is a view that, in my own case, has evolved over a number of years in post as head of planning for a local authority. I have seen many cases of successful redevelopment and regeneration projects involving historic properties that have relied heavily on the guidance and experience of conservation sections. As with all services within a local authority, particular challenges occur. These can be constant features of the professional environment or new developments triggered by changes in priority. Conservation services have always faced obstacles. Often seen as being restrictive, they are blamed for increasing the costs of proposals and limiting the scope of developments. Consequently, the ongoing challenges faced by conservation professionals are to dispel common misconceptions and to promote the important value of the historic built environment. Increasing public awareness of the importance of understanding the historic environment as an asset rather than a burden is a constant challenge for conservation teams throughout the UK. Conservation organisations and local authorities have worked extremely hard to promote a positive image of the historic environment in an attempt to lessen the stigma of preventing ‘progress’ that can sometimes be associated with conservation. As a result of this hard work more people today are aware of the importance of the historic environments in which they live and how they create a sense of place and a unique character that should be enhanced and protected. Following on from increasing public awareness of the asset the built environment represents, the next challenge is to determine how best to enhance and protect it. Within a local authority it has been my experience that early discussion and consultation often lead to the best outcome for the historic environment. This may be in the form of preapplication discussion regarding a specific building or, at a more strategic level, in the creation of local and national policy. As a more widespread appreciation of the importance of the historic built environment develops, it can be anticipated that the number of poor quality proposals will reduce, along with the amount of time spent by conservation services resisting them. A more focussed contribution to the development process can then be provided by local authority conservation services due to better allocation of its limited resources. A conservation service that is approachable by members of the public and professionals within the built environment industry alike is essential in delivering the aims and objectives set by national policy in relation to both conservation and economic regeneration. The current economic climate impacts very significantly on local authority conservation sections. This can take the form of reduced availability of grant funding, as this is directed towards other needs. Developers taking on projects under these conditions may have more limited funds to carry out the works to a high standard and may wish to sacrifice those elements of a scheme that are important in delivering what is seen as a ‘successful’ conservation project. This has the result that projects to convert and reuse historic properties are not coming forward at this time. This presents a challenge for local authority conservation services in ensuring that these properties are not forgotten. Where projects do come forward, the task, as ever, will be to show the positive contribution that conservation of the historic environment can make to a successful development. Baxter Park Pavilion, Baxter Park, Dundee: designed by Sir Joseph Paxton’s son in law, George Stokes, and recently restored by Dundee City Council