IHBC Yearbook 2024

22 included locally specific policies on the historic and natural environments. The Maids Moreton Neighbourhood Plan is one example where growth, heritage and environment policies and local green space designations collectively protect character, biodiversity and amenity. HISTORIC TOWNS Even before Covid, there were concerns over the decline of some town centres. The High Street Task Force and various town centre programmes were already in place before the pandemic. However, decline accelerated in many areas and probably most centres have experienced some closures. In some instances, large amounts of floorspace have become vacant following the closure of stores like Debenhams, many in historic buildings and historic towns. However, there has been a tendency towards generalisation. At the same time, many towns and city centres have maintained their vitality and some have positively prospered. More flexible life-work patterns developed during the pandemic and to some extent these have continued since. This has implications in terms of demand for offices, retail viability and use of town centres’ facilities. Demand for more traditional office spaces has reduced in some centres. At the same time, there has been an increase in demand for flexible workspace, such as rental desks or hot desks. The hospitality sector was hit hard by the Covid lockdowns but recovered quickly in many towns. Hospitality is a dynamic sector which normally has a high rate of start-ups and closures. In managing the recovery of historic towns and high streets, the economic value of heritage needs to be understood, whether for its role in creating an attractive environment for shoppers, for its value in providing flexible floorspace, for its potential to support regeneration, or for its contribution to tourism and the visitor economy. Historic buildings have often been part of the solution, for example in market refurbishments in Altrincham and Preston and in the Storyhouse conversion in Chester. Housing is high on the political agenda and can represent both an opportunity and a challenge for historic towns. When looking for sites for new housing, the opportunity should be taken to consider historic town and high-street recovery early in the process. This enables a positive strategy for increasing the population catchment of towns. To be effective, site allocations need to be supported by infrastructure to enable active travel between new housing and town centres. This is a more strategic approach with emphasis on positive impacts, including those on heritage. Unfortunately, some heritage guidance on housing sites still promotes a passive approach where negative impacts and mitigation are assessed at a later stage. The role of place leadership was recognised in the High Street Task Force report on ‘Place Leadership in English Local Authorities’, dated November 2022. Leadership and shared vision across a range of stakeholders are both important factors in achieving high street recovery. However, it is surprising how often such corporate leadership is lacking and liaison between different players is limited. The challenge for the heritage sector is to ensure that there is good awareness at strategic level of the economic and social value of heritage. PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE These are just some examples of current challenges and opportunities for historic places. Practice is not just about conserving character and special interest, but also realising the social and economic potential of heritage and conserving the intrinsic characteristics of historic places in terms of sustainable neighbourhoods, climate change and biodiversity. Heritage has always been a multi-disciplinary activity. While there have been past attempts to promote a model for the ‘generic’ heritage specialist, the reality is an increasing need for multi-disciplinary teams, combining skills in heritage, architecture, design, planning, landscape, place management and other disciplines. This multidisciplinary approach is essential to the effective care of historic places. IHBC’s membership is drawn from different disciplines from across the sectors. The competencies for membership work across disciplines and address the full breadth of practice, including economic, placemaking, technical, legal and other factors. The recent revision of the IHBC’s competence descriptors places greater emphasis on placemaking and wider environmental factors. This helps to ensure that heritage practitioners are equipped to tackle the changing nature of constructive, realworld conservation. Dave Chetwyn is Managing Director of Urban Vision Enterprise and IHBC Communications and Outreach Secretary. The Storyhouse, Chester: the reuse and extension of a listed building as a cultural centre was key to the regeneration of a run-down area of the city.