IHBC 2018 Yearbook

16 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 8 CHAIR’S REVIEW JAMES CAIRD, IHBC CHAIR INTHIS column it is the custom to give a general review of the IHBC and its current place in the heritage sector. In recent years there have been two predominating themes. First there is the relentless decline in the resources available for heritage regulation, protection and intervention, especially in England. The second is the corresponding emphasis that we, in the IHBC and with others, are developing in the promotion of high quality conservation practice. The IHBC was formed 21 years ago by the members of the Association of Conservation Officers, itself then only 16 years old. The ACO’s focus was, of course, the professional practice of statutory conservation regulation, but it was recognised that the achievement of high standards of conservation practice required far more than the avoidance of unacceptable outcomes. It is within this complex arena that the IHBC was established, with the specific aim of promoting the standards required to achieve the desired outcomes. Given the origins of the IHBC, it is perhaps understandable, much as it might be regretted, that the institute’s role is still misunderstood in some quarters. There are those who still largely think of our function as the assessment and regulation of the heritage impacts of development proposals. But, just as the key to the quality of the UK’s historic environment lies in our implementation skills as much as our regulatory practice, so the key to the maintenance and improvement of conservation practice lies in the IHBC’s work across a wide spectrum of heritage activity. Resources and staffing levels for heritage regulation, enforcement and enhancement have been reduced in recent years by most planning authorities in line with similar declines in many other aspects of locally delivered public service. Furthermore there has been a relaxation of heritage policy. This appears to have been driven partly by the increasing complexity of heritage consent processes in the face of repeated government drives to reduce ‘process inertia’. But it is also partly because heritage is seen by some as one of several inhibitors of new development: nimbyism, wildlife, landscape, etc. I think we are widely agreed in the IHBC that neither of these criticisms of heritage policy ought to be valid. Heritage is a very strong component of ‘place-making’. Heritage places have premium values and host premium economies. People like heritage. Nor should heritage values be considered regressive. Heritage buildings are inherently sustainable, with their embodied energy and enormous flexibility for reuse. Using the appropriate techniques, heritage buildings are widely restored, adapted and reused for 21st-century uses in very appealing and imaginative ways.What is needed is more of such developments, not fewer. This strengthens the core role of the IHBC: the improvement of the whole spectrum of conservation practice, from master planning and place-making, building procurement and design, to restoration practice and implementation. At this latter end of the spectrum lies the all-important aspect of building craft skills. The best of conservation proposals can be undermined by unsatisfactory execution, so maintaining a competent workforce must be a primary concern. To this end the IHBC contributes to the work of the Council on Training in Architectural Conservation. Recently the two bodies have entered into a memorandum of agreement on future collaboration. The IHBC is also exploring how it might extend its work internationally. The alignment of IHBC policy and practice with international standards such as those of ICOMOS has always been important to us. This importance is reinforced by the need for the UK to be outward-facing in the new political and economic structures in which we find ourselves as well as ensuring that the UK’s conservation standards continue to be reinforced by the best practice of the wider world. The constantly changing heritage landscape both at home and abroad means that we have to keep our own governance in active focus.We have been taking active steps to widen the opportunities for members to participate in the running of the institute. This will probably mean a greater stratification of what we do into roles that are more manageable for today’s overworked conservationists. More joint working with other bodies is likely so that we continue to be able to put best practice in conservation in the spotlight for practitioners of all types and the general public as well. As ever my thanks, on behalf of the whole institute, must go to our very able and dedicated staff and volunteers who make the day-to-day work of the IHBC tick along so well. James Caird, chair@ihbc.org.uk