‘Conservation areas are a good thing. Discuss’ might be a question in an IHBC examination and the right answer would be, ‘Yes, they are’. At least that was the consensus among professionals at the Conservation Area At Risk seminars run by the HTF for English Heritage earlier in the year. But for people living in Conservation Areas the answer might not be so straight forward, because the seminars also showed that advice and information need to be spread more widely and effectively to the residents.
All credit then to the North West Association of Civic Trust Societies for publishing Conservation Area Awareness.
Stephen Langtree of the Chester Civic Trust (and HTF Executive member), who designed and edited the guide, explained the background. ‘In the early days of our regional association surveys were conducted to identify priorities for projects and campaigns. “Development Control in Conservation Areas” was the clear winner, but before focusing on this we felt that Conservation Areas needed to be better understood and appreciated.’
The guide aims to answer five questions about Conservation Areas. What are they? Who chooses them? Who controls development? Why are they important? How can local people help?
The guide has been prepared through a mixture of self help and outside support, as Stephen described. ‘Having successfully applied to English Heritage for modest funding (£2,500) we then set about collecting case studies from around the NW region. While all this was going on we were also compiling registers of all the Conservation Areas in each local authority area.’
Although the guide focuses on the North West, its principles have wide applicability and it would be easy to adapt it to other regions or indeed individual towns.
Stephen is modest about the success of the initiative so far. ‘It's very hard to assess the impact. Some civic societies have warmly welcomed the booklet and have ordered extra copies to circulate to their local councillors. Nevertheless, the general level of direct feedback has been disappointing. Perhaps, in due course, we will see evidence of greater interest in Conservation Areas and a corresponding reduction in those deemed to be at risk.’
Let’s hope so and in the mean time people in the North West will have a better idea about why Conservation Areas are a good thing.
Brian Human, HTF Vice Chair
5 May 2010