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Good practice guide

Conserved colombier, Jersey


The following advice is abridged from guidance drafted for the Royal Town Planning Institute by Jack Warshaw, Stephen Levrant and Phil Grover.   You may download, disseminate or print this advice, but may not edit, alter or delete credits from it.  We have made every effort to ensure, but do not warrant its accuracy. 

Copyright CAP2008


1.1 Conservation touches on global, national and local concerns and crosses professional disciplines, including planning, architecture, landscape, engineering, archaeology, urban design, history, ecology, sociology, physical sciences, economics, agriculture and others.

1.2 Conservation of buildings and areas of special architectural or historic interest is the law!  Statutory authorities exercise control over development which affects their character.

1.3 Failure to understand what is  important about a building or place, can lead to loss of character, granted permission, in the name of conservation. 

Conservation defined
1.4 BS 7913, The British Standard Guide to the Principles of Conservation defines it as:
  “Action to secure the  survival or preservation for the future of buildings, cultural artifacts, natural resources, energy or any other thing of acknowledged value.”

Government advice (PPG15)declares that:
 “...The physical survivals of our past are to be valued for their own sake, as a central part of our cultural heritage and our sense of national identity.  They are an irreplaceable record which our understanding of both the present and the past.  Their presence adds to the quality of our lives, by enhancing the familiar and cherished local scene and sustaining the sense of local distinctiveness...”


Founders, philosophy and achievement
1.5 Modern conservation has its origins in the antiquarian and romantic thought, and its main impetus from about the mid 19th Century.  John Ruskin attacked sterile “restorations” of ancient churches by influential zealots from the 1840s, declaring that:
  “It is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.”
1.6 In 1877, proposed alterations to Tewkesbury Abbey led William Morris to form the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  The Manifesto, he wrote pleaded that those who deal with buildings of
  “all times and styles...put Protection in place of Restoration, to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky resist all tampering with either the fabric or ornament of a treat our ancient buildings as monuments of a bygone art, created by bygone manners, that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying.”

1.7 By the late 19th century, the first conservation legislation, covering Ancient Monuments was enacted, the National Trust established and the systematic Survey of London begun.  This has led to the present body of law and guidance, principally The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, (England and Wales) and 1997 (Scotland).
1.8 Over half a million UK buildings have been listed by the Secretaries of State; conservation area designations have risen to about 10,000. 

1.9 Historic Parks, Gardens and battlefields are also designated. The effect of development on their character is a material consideration in determining  planning applications.

Current thinking
1.10 Conservation is not synonymous with restoration or preservation.  BS 7913 helps to distinguish between them:
  “Alteration of a building, part of a building or artifact which has decayed, been lost or damaged or is thought to have been inappropriately repaired or altered in the past, the objective of which is to make it conform again to its design or to its appearance at a previous date.”
  “The state of survival of a building or artifact, whether by historical accident or through a combination of protection and active conservation.”

1.11 This helps explain why “restoration” was condemned by early campaigners.  It is still too easy to draw up a “restoration” scheme without any real evidence about the design or appearance at a previous date.  Replacing  features of interest with inferior invention, falsely described as having “restored the original,” has reduced many fine  buildings to worthless fantasies.

1.12 Current UK thinking, while still indebted to the SPAB approach, is also informed by other national and international philosophical and practical guidance, some, but not all of which is mirrored in legislation:

The White Paper “Sustainable Development- the UK Strategy” committed the Government to the concept of not sacrificing what future generations will value for the sake of short-term and often illusory gains.  English Heritage has also published Sustaining the historic environment in which the principles of sustainability and  concepts of heritage values, participation and environmental capital are discussed.English Heritage: “Principles of Repair” and “The Repair of Historic Buildings in Scotland”

1.13 These set out, while stressing that there can be no standard specification for repair, a number of key principles to be followed in most cases.

1.14 the Venice Charter of 1964 - an internationally agreed approach to conservation

1.15 Kerr’s “The Conservation Plan,” (4th ed 1996) a general methodology for identifying and grading places of cultural significance, and developing a practical Conservation Policy.  It stresses that:
  “Conservation and development are not mutually exclusive objectives; they should, and can be part of a single planning process...


2.1 Familiarity with the powers and duties which the relevant Act and Statutory Instruments confer on authorities and persons carrying out or proposing works is vital to good practice.

2.2 Government guidance advises that policies for development and listed building control should be flexible where new uses have to be considered to secure a building’s survival.  Planners should be willing to explore solutions which will least affect the character or integrity of the building.  Flexibility on the part the proposer can be equally important.

2.3 Financial help is one of the most powerful tools which can be used to achieve successful conservation schemes.  Help can come from local, regional, national, and international sources and can be based on heritage, tourism, regeneration, transport, arts, sport, education and other fields.  Which approach is decided upon should come from understanding the nature of the project, and eligibility criteria. Considerable expertise in this role is advisable.  One-off grants should not be dismissed, but  Grade II buildings outside other priority funding categories are unlikely to receive assistance.

2.4 Educating building owners and advisors in good  practice is more effective than attempting to police bad practice.  Enlightened self interest can be a persuasive argument, e.g., conserving  may be the  best way to maximise value.

2.5 The local and national political arenas are fertile ground for promoting principles, policies and practical projects in conservation.  Support for conservation is an acknowledged vote-winner and politicians should be aware that around 75% of all listed and conservation area buildings are domestic, inhabited by voters.  Planners who report to or have contact with elected decision makers are in a key position to advise them with regard to both their statutory duties and the constituency benefits which an enlightened conservation programme can bring.


2.6  All local plans are required under the principal Act to include policies for ‘the conservation of the natural beauty and amenity of the land’ and for ‘the improvement of the physical environment.’ 

2.7 Imaginative policies can encourage the satisfactory reuse of neglected buildings, regenerate areas and tackle land use or environmental factors which may be discouraging conservation programmes.  Up to date research acknowledges that conservation-led strategies can bring equal or greater benefits than redevelopment.

2.8 Local plans should set out authorities’ criteria for designating and reviewing conservation areas as well as their policies for preservation or enhancement of the historic environment, make clear to the public how the detailed assessment process operates and the weight which will be given to them in decisions on applications.

The foremost objective of conservation policies and reasoned justification within local plans should be to interpret national policy in a manner which reflects the particular local context.  Policies should not therefore merely reiterate central government advice but should use PPGs and other advice and data to help frame distinctive and relevant policies designed to address specific local issues.2.9 The local plan process is both collaborative and consultative.  There should be no artificial barriers between those who develop policy and those who implement it. Transparency of process is vital to good conservation planning.

Essential and desirable inputs
2.10 Conservation policies must be precise, well aimed and founded on best practice to be effective.  Essential inputs include:
 ∙ how national and strategic guidance is applied locally
 ∙ co-ordination with strategic Plan policies
 ∙ how and when the authority will carry out its statutory duties, e.g. review, designation, preservation and enhancement
 ∙ how and when the authority will invoke its powers, e.g.  Article 4s, repairs, etc.
 ∙ what information applicants should provide
 ∙ the effect of change of use, alterations and extensions, use of materials, etc.
 ∙ new works in historic settings
 ∙ policies for archaeology
 ∙ access for people with disabilities
 ∙ A programme of Supplementary Guidance
 ∙ local factors of particular importance
 Desirable inputs include:
 ∙ criteria for acceptable adaptive reuse
 ∙ reinstatement of missing features
 ∙ co-ordination with economic, environmental, tourism, transport, urban design, housing and other policies
 ∙ co-ordination with policies on townscape and the public domain
 ∙ flexibility in applying standards which might otherwise harm preservation or character
 ∙ policies addressing pressure for change
 ∙ safety and security considerations
 ∙ works by statutory undertakers
 ∙ floodlighting
 ∙ signs, hoardings, adverts

Design quality
2.11 High quality design is a crucial factor in promoting sustainable development, improving the quality of the existing environment, attracting business and investment and reinforcing local distinctiveness, civic pride and sense of place. The Government (PPG1) defines urban design as:
  “...the relationship between the buildings and the streets, squares, parks, waterways and other spaces which make up the public domain; the nature and quality of the public domain itself; the relationship of one part of a village, town or city with other parts; and the patterns of movement and activity which are thereby established; in short, the complex relationships between all the elements of built and unbuilt space...”
 Objectives of conservation and good urban design usually coincide.

Engaging the public
2.12 Transparency of process is particularly important.  The more clear the policies, procedures and decision-making criteria are, the more likely people will engage in creative dialogue, seek assistance, report infringements, care for their own property, avoid NIMBY reactions and support soundly based proposals.  Planners should always be prepared to use whichever consultation and participation techniques are appropriate to the particular issue.


Statutory Duties:
3.1 There is no standard definition of a conservation area.  Authorities are obliged to determine which parts of their area are “special” having regard to the criteria outlined in PPG15 and parallel guidance.  Where they comply, they must be designated and regularly reviewed.  The authority then has to formulate plans to preserve or enhance their character.

3.2 The special character of an area should be defined before designation.  Less than comprehensive definitions risk failure in defending the area or loss of character.

3.3 Proper programming, consultation, evidence and local support should be the rule.  Urgent threats or other factors may  demand urgent action,  followed up by in-depth appraisal.

3.4 English Heritage guidance, Conservation Area Appraisals, stresses that each area has to be defined according to individual and often idiosyncratic criteria.  EH’s Conservation Area Practice includes a “character checklist”, summarised as:
 ∙ origin and topographical development
 ∙ archaeological development and potential
 ∙ intrinsic interest of buildings
 ∙ character of spaces, townscape quality
 ∙ distinctive traditional building materials
 ∙ green spaces, planting
 ∙ uses of buildings
 ∙ relationship of buildings to landscape/countryside
 ∙ negative elements, opportunities for change
 ∙ neutral elements

Gathering Evidence
3.5 Appraisal material must be gathered on the ground, supported by documentary evidence.  It requires heightened awareness of visual, historical, geographic, morphological, social and other qualities of cultural significance.  Clarity and completeness is necessary.  Local knowledge may be valuable.  The definition of character is fundamental to any area statement.

3.6 If consultants are to be commissioned to study an area proper briefing is vital. While cost-limited basic studies may be better than leaving areas unappraised indefinitely, a superficial one may not carry much weight at appeal.
3.7 Applicants may need to commission detailed studies as part of the required justification of their proposals, or as part of a body of evidence in appeals.  In such cases there could be a conflict of expert opinion as to the character of the area or how to approach its conservation.  Good information produced through these processes can however be recycled (with the author’s consent) into full appraisals, potentially saving much time and money.

National, Regional and Local Factors
3.8 The historic environment comprises elements of varying nature and importance considered against national, regional and local criteria.  Elements of national consideration or uniqueness will obviously carry greater weight in the appraisal.  However, this element can also be the most difficult to assess as a greater knowledge of national context is required.  Such referrals must not be made lightly or leave the way open to challenge and contention. 

3.9 It has always been open to any member of the public to propose buildings for listing, or for that matter, delisting.  Many conservation areas have been initially proposed by local communities, sometimes because they perceive an imminent threat. Their judgement on whether conservation objectives  are being achieved is vital in framing future policies as well as influencing how they vote at the next election.



4.1 Applicants must explain not only what he or she is proposing, but why, as justifying the need for work may be crucial to going on to focus on the actual details. 

4.2 Altogether, a meaningful dialogue and faster process is more likely to take place where:
 ∙ At least one meeting, preferably on site, has taken place beforehand, so that the nature of the project can be explained and understood in its context, the building or locality itself.
 ∙ Drawings are of a sequence, form and graphic quality which clearly explains what is intended, shows relevant existing work and proposed changes at appropriate scales and milestones.
 ∙ A written statement, displaying an understanding of the building or area and its historic features, the reasons for the proposals, their details and the effects on the features or character, forms part of the
  application documents
 ∙ Supporting information, including where necessary an economic evaluation and the benefits to the public which would accrue from the development is submitted.

Post application steps
4.3 If a trained, experienced conservation officer  gives expert advice, expect it to form part of the commentary on the case and be cited in reports for decision, regardless of lead authorship, or the weight attached.

4.4 For advice to stand up, it must be soundly based.  Personal preference has little place in  planning.  Taste in architecture, urban form, landscape or any other thing, it must not be allowed to influence professional judgement.

Consultations and referrals
4.5 Consultations follow a prescribed procedure,  with statutory and certain other consultees listed in Annex A of PPG15 and parallel guidance.  Some details may differ in each case and between London and elsewhere Lpa’s own applications for lbc must be made to the Secretary of State for the Environment.  The Secretary of State must be notified in certain cases and may “call in” an application.  Press notices,  neighbour, local amenity and Conservation Area Advisory Committee consultations are generally undertaken as standard procedure.  The last, CAAC’s can be a valuable source of informed, independent opinion.  They can advise on policy and strategy as well as applications.  Members should include representatives of the main professional institutes and lay persons with local knowledge and comprehension of relevant policies.  Some authorities stipulate that a CAAC report must precede applications being reported to a decision making committee.  Proper funding for CAACs is essential if they are to be effective.

4.6 Authorities’ Standing Orders on how applications are dealt with at committees vary widely.  While all are public, many do not allow direct representations at the hearing.  Others have procedures for presentations by  applicant or agent and objectors, followed by members’ questions. Procedures should be fair and transparent.

4.7 An authority can revoke  or modify a planning permission or listed building consent, but may be liable for compensation for any loss.


5.1 The RTPI and its members have long been a source of advice on a broad range of planning matters.  The Institute’s Planning Aid Service has a register of volunteer planners who help those who cannot afford to employ consultants, although it contains few conservation specialists.

Central Government
5.2 Advice from Central Government on conservation matters, as with other aspects of the planning process, is provided through Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs) in England and Wales.  Similar advice is to be found in the Memorandum of Guidance, Historic Scotland.  PPG15 and PPG16 give advice on planning and the Historic Environment and Planning and Archaeology respectively.  The advice provided in PPG15 in particular, is extensive and clearly-written, covering the full range of conservation issues in the development process, ranging from listing of buildings, through to transport and traffic management.

English Heritage/Historic Scotland/CADW/DOE(NI)
5.3 The national conservation agencies whose role generally is to advise government and others, promote best practice, look after properties in care, share determination of certain applications and allocate funding,  are often the starting point for seeking expert advice on a wide range of conservation matters.  Specialist advice from English Heritage and its counterparts is generally given from a  national perspective and delivered through regionally organised teams .
5.4 An extensive range of advisory publications is also available.  English Heritage, for example, has produced material on subjects as diverse as disabled access to historic buildings and pointing of brickwork.  In Scotland, Technical Advice Notes (TANs) offer similar guidance.
5.5 Most public sector conservation officers, an increasing number of private sector and academic specialists are members of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation which can channel advice on most conservation matters.  A quarterly journal `Context' is an authoritative source of valuable information and other helpful documents have been produced.  IHBC Committees include Technical, Law and Practice and Education. 

5.6 The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers is made up of local authority archaeologists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  They maintain Sites and Monuments Records.  Members give advice on the archaeological implications of development.  The Association has published advice on the analysis and recording of historic buildings affected by development proposals.
English Historic Towns Forum/Historic Burghs Association of Scotland

5.7 These bodies have a combined membership of some 60 towns.  They organise conferences, seminars and workshops on a range of topics aimed at generalist planners as well as conservation specialists.  The EHTF regularly publishes practical advice and guidance on planning and conservation topics.
Learned Societies
5.8 From the early days of the conservation movement learned societies have played a key role in the protection of the historic environment and the key bodies are now statutory consultees in relevant cases.
5.9 The Ancient Monuments Society, Council for British Archaeology, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, The Georgian Group, The Victorian Society and The 20th Century Society are through their casework and publications able to offer valuable advice in respect of proposals affecting historic buildings. 

Civic Trust/Scottish Civic Trust
5.10 The Civic Trusts are amongst the most influential of amenity societies, active in practical ways including initiation of regeneration schemes in historic towns.  In Scotland the Civic Trust produces a Buildings at Risk Register including both listed and unlisted buildings in need of repair or reuse.
5.11 The Garden History Society is frequently consulted on relevant proposals.  In addition to casework the amenity societies are able to offer valuable practical advice on a whole range of conservation matters.

Places of Worship
5.12 For Church of England buildings The Council for the Care of Churches, The Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England and The Advisory Board for Redundant Churches are all potential sources of advice.  Most other denominations have an advisory structure.
Conservation Officers, Libraries, Museums
5.13 Local authority conservation teams keep information about individual buildings and areas, and can advise on many technical and procedural matters.  Local studies libraries, museums, archive collections and local societies often hold valuable information about buildings or settlements in their area.

5.14 The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England (and equivalent organisations in Scotland and Wales) have photographs, aerial photographs, measured drawings, written histories and thematic studies on particular building types.  See their website.

5.15 Most specialist conservation consultants, who can be found through the RTPI Consultants Directory and other sources, will offer initial general advice on a specific case free of charge in response to an enquiry, although subsequent time may be charged.  Where complex legal interpretation is required, a specialist barrister or solicitor may be approached through a planning consultant.
Other organisations
5.16 The National Trust, the Civic Trust, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Institute of Field Archaeologists and many other bodies concerned with conservation can be found in the Museums and Galleries Commission Conservation Unit’s Conservation Sourcebook (HMSO).  Other groups include The United Kingdom Association of Preservation Trusts (APT) for advice in connection with the formation and management of Building Preservation Trusts and Save Britain’s Heritage, a pressure group which campaigns on behalf of buildings at risk and has produced many valuable reports and studies.

6.1 Conflict causes delay, unnecessary expense and effort, and may result in lost opportunities. 
Identifying conflict
6.2 A key task in any conservation initiative is to properly identify likely points/areas of conflict or difficulty, procure necessary information and expertise and plan appropriate responses.
Commissioning Experts
6.3 The commissioning of experts/consultants is generally most cost-effective for large, specialised, complex, one-off or time-limited tasks.  Effective briefing requires that the terms of reference, deliverables, technical, financial and other criteria by which prospective consultants’ submissions will be assessed be clearly defined, quantified where possible and adhered to.  Clients lacking such expertise should consider engaging a consultant to assist. The RTPI can also advise on selection.
Engagement and Empowerment
6.4 Real involvement of people can only help professionals engaged in conservation.  This has been proven where, for example, local groups have supported designations, monitored change, guided enhancement schemes and resisted unwelcome proposals.

Commissioning Studies:
6.5 Identifying specific problems and opportunities and finding solutions through careful and systematic study of the problem can help avoid wasteful `fire-fighting' actions..

6.6 Best Value commissioning might be aided by inviting proposals against a budgeted, properly researched fixed fee, rather than seeking a tender price against a brief.  Assessment is based on what  consultants propose to deliver for that sum.


Other Professions
7.1 Larger projects may require a large team, not only planners, engineers, architects, building surveyors, archaeologists, landscape architects and legal advisors, but also services specialists, materials analysts, historians, transport planners, urban designers, conservators, building managers, leisure and tourism consultants, economists, valuers, estate managers and many others.


Importance of Data Base:
8.1 The ability to sort, categorise and search most relevant data is now within everyone’s grasp with relatively simple software, linking to sources of greater detail where necessary.  Pictorial records are also easier to compile.
Pre and Post Decision Records:
8.2 More than a "before-and-after", these make up the history of human and social development of an area. Their inclusion in the data-base is vital to understanding historic development.

8.3 The source of data, whether existing records, extracts, transposed onto a master data-base; or specially commissioned work should be identified, in enough detail for later researchers to verify or expand upon it.

8.4 Drawings are now increasingly produced on CAD systems, and the technology exists for compact storage of high volumes of graphic information.

8.5 Some authorities have already created  websites so that drawings and other  documents can be accessed from any remote computer.  A further development could be the ability to engage in consultation and reporting electronically, or download relevant local plan policies.  “Hard” copies should always be retained where possible.

Further reading
DETR PPG15 Planning and the historic environment, 1994
English Heritage Guides
 Conservation area practice
 Developing in the historic environment
 Conservation area appraisals
Michell, E. Emergency Repairs for Historic Buildings
London: English Heritage 1988
Clifton-Taylor, A The pattern of English building, Faber & Faber, 1972
Brereton, C The repair of historic buildings, English Heritage, 1995
Ruskin, J The Seven Lamps of Architecture, circa 1860
Morris, W The Manifesto of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, 1877
Amery, C and Cruickshank, D Rape of Britain Paul Elk, 1975
Powis, AR Repair of Ancient Buildings,1929.  SPAB 1981
Kerr, JS, The Conservation Plan, Kerr 1996 
Cathedral Communications Building Conservation Directory (annual) Tisbury
BSI Guide to the Principles of the conservation of historic buildings, 1998
Pevsner, N, Buildings of England, Wales, Scotland, Ulster series, Hamondsworth, 1951 to date
Brunskill, R Illustrated handbook of vernacular architecture, Faber & Faber 1971
SPAB, Georgian Group and Victorian Society technical pamphlets and information leaflets
Context, Journal of the IHBC
Muthesius, H The English House - translated from the original German, 1903
Mercer, E English Vernacular Houses, HMSO 1975
Muthesius, S The English Terraced House, 198-
Royal Commissions on the Historical Monuments of England and Wales County Inventories
English Historic Towns Forum   various publications on townscape, street furniture, good practice, etc.
Civic Trust and Scottish Civic Trust, various