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The Conservation Plan
Conservation plan model
Conservation Plans are a requirement for most Lottery Funded projects, but can be valuable where programme of works to heritage assets are concerned. The guide, Conservation Plans for Historic Places sets out a methodology for assessing the cultural significance of a building or place and making policies which inform project briefs and act as yardsticks for proposals, including: · major repair or restoration, · new development which is to become part of a historic building or within its setting, · future management proposals or, · a regular maintenance programme.
The first step is to understand the site, i.e. gather and draw together all documentary and physical evidence of the place, explain and illustrate its significance and how it has changed over time.
Next, assessment of significance involves making value judgements about each element identified and about the asset as a whole. This may not coincide with any formal designation, such as listing, and may include grading of elements, e.g. those which are essential to the retention or enhancement of significance, those which are desirable, those which may be traded in return for some larger or more vital conservation benefit and those which have a negative impact and should be reversed.
Issues, risks, constraints and opportunities are then defined, with the objective of assessing the impact which any of them has had or could have on the significance of the site. Conservation policies, the heart of the Plan are then written as the benchmark against which all proposals should be measured. Ideally, the proposals themselves should not be formulated until then.
In practice however, many conservation or rehabilitation projects are unlikely to fit this model because the fundamental nature of the project and its driving forces have been conceived and worked up in some detail and cost beforehand. While this is entirely understandable, it is unrealistic (particularly considering Government guidance in PPG15) to expect the preparation of a conservation plan to ignore what might prove to be the only or best available means of retaining the asset at all, even though it might not be the ideal means of preserving it, on best evidence, in its purest, intended or most intrinsically interesting form.
An alternative model acknowledging the pre-existing development plan and integrating evaluation with significance might be more appropriate in these circumstances. This can only succeed if the author of the plan retains an independent position and does not succumb to the natural tendency of professional consultants to support their client's vision. Independence can be the client's most valuable asset, because if the project is to win support from controlling or funding bodies, it is just as vital to anticipate and mitigate drawbacks as it is to emphasise benefits. This has suggested the use of the Development Model, illustrated below:
The starting point is the proposed development itself. It should emerge from an independent rigorous condition survey, be properly funded, sustainable, and technically feasible. It should find support at least in principle from the decision making authorities, typically English Heritage and the local planning authority. Without at least a sound prediction of success in all these tests there would be little point in embarking on a Conservation Plan. If it passes however, the documentary evidence, physical evidence, evaluation and statement of significance can be applied.
The requirements for retention of significance are then stated and the proposed development tested against them. The conservation policy can then be developed, against which the scheme would be evaluated and, if necessary modified. The statutory decision making regime is the concluding step, although further steps could be added, such as monitoring, re-evaluation and updating the Plan following completion of the works.
A further development of the concept of different models for different circumstances emerges from Government procedures, where, for example there is an official culture which endorses best conservation practice, yet there is Crown exemption from requiring permission and a high degree of autonomy on the part of senior managers in procurement.
The Government model, illustrated here might be a means of addressing this position:
In this model Government procedure is integrated with the evaluation methodology and the existing procurement process, so that it can be expressed in the Forward Maintenance Programme. A recording and feedback step is then used to inform the next Quadrennial Inspection. The FMP can of course be extended laterally and forward where, for example a major building project is contemplated. The process could also be valuable in assessing the impact of any proposal for reuse in connection with disposal of buildings and sites.
These techniques will I hope inform client choices about management plans in general as well as best practice for the future.