Best Value or Not?

Best value or not?Best Value Performance Indicators are not among the most popular of the tools the Government uses to micro manage local authorities, so the removal of any from the long list is not usually a cause for regret. However, recent changes to BVPI 219 should not be taken lightly.

BVPI 219a, the total number of Conservation Areas in the local authority area, and BVPI 219c, the percentage of Conservation Areas with management proposals, are to be discontinued. This leaves BVPI 219b, the percentage of Conservation Areas with up to date character appraisals, which may be amended.

Few people would argue that they are particularly good indicators of either a local authority's performance in conserving the historic environment or the state of the historic environment itself. Merely to record the number of Conservation Areas seems bizarre, hardly an incentive to designate a large coherent area rather than several fragmented ones. Similarly, having a management plan is no indication that resources are being put into conservation. However cranky they may have been as indicators they did have one advantage: local authorities had to face the fact that they were expected to take their statuary conservation responsibilities seriously.

For this reason, if no other, the retention of BVPI 219b is welcome: local authority members have to recognise that up to date appraisals are considered to be important and this may help to lever out much needed resources to carry out the work of assessment.

But the real conservation value is much greater than this, of course. The original appraisal ensures that the true reason for declaring a Conservation Area is established; and subsequent appraisals help to monitor changes and target action. An increasingly important benefit is the role of up to date appraisals in providing part of the evidence base for conservation policies in Local Development Frameworks. The robustness of these policies is critical because CA appraisals themselves cannot be Local Development Documents.

Sheer conservation creditability does not deliver the resources to carry out the work and it can be especially hard to get commitment to reappraisals. There may be more political mileage in declaring new Conservation Areas than in reviewing old ones especially where there is a growing appreciation of the grey voter power of the suburbs!

Possible ways round the resource issue will include the development of rapid appraisals, as advocated by English Heritage, and building capacity in the community so that the goodwill and enthusiasm of local people can be harnessed to help carry out surveys and research.

Whatever we may think of Best Value indicators, the requirement to continue to assess and address changes to historic places is essential if we are to really conserve the townscape that is still in trouble.

Brian Human