Heritage Assets

Understanding Heritage Assets

Requirements in support of applications

Conservation is the practice of managing change in ways that will best sustain the values of a building or place as a cultural entity. To do this effectively requires an understanding of its history, evolution and special features. It is a requirement of the consent process that an understanding of the asset and the effect changes to it will have must support any proposals for change.

The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 clearly sets out the core principle that "Planning should conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations" (Paragraph 17)

"When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset's conservation. The more important the asset, the greater the weight should be. Significance can be harmed or lost through alteration or destruction of the heritage asset or development within its setting. As heritage assets are irreplaceable, any harm to or loss should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of a grade II listed building, park or garden should be exceptional. Substantial harm to or loss of designated heritage assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings and grade I and II* registered parks and gardens,World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional"(Paragraph 132)

Therefore understanding the significance of a historic building or area in detail and assessing the potential impact of proposed alterations upon this significance is the key to good conservation practice.

Good information at an early stage will speed up the processing of applications, reduce costs and lead to better solutions.

While more minor works proposals can be justified through a straightforward Design and Access Statement or short Heritage Statement there are situations where the building is of higher than usual significance and/or is more historically complex which will require a much more detailed series of investigations.

 What is a Heritage Statement?

A heritage statement is a written (and illustrated as necessary) statement which examines the special character of the heritage asset, its features, fixtures and fittings, its setting and the setting of adjacent assets and  the impact proposals may have on these. It is an explanation of the impact that the alteration proposed will have on the historic interest, it is not an explanation as to why the alterations are proposed although it may explain why the works are desirable.

The nature of the proposals and the sensitivity of the building will dictate the level of detail that will be required for a heritage statement.

As a guide a Heritage Statement will need to answer such questions as -

What are your proposals?

What is the historic interest and significance to the heritage asset of the elements that would be affected by the proposals?

What is the age, condition and quality of the elements that would be affected by the proposals?

In your proposals what will be demolished or removed?

Why is this appropriate for the building and for the features of significance that will be affected?

What measures will be included to mitigate the effect of these works?

What new additions are you proposing and why is the design and quality of these appropriate to the building?

What benefits to the building will result?

Are the materials and methods to be employed in the works in accordance with good conservation practice?

At its most complex the production of the supporting material will need to include historical research, architectural and landscape history, measured surveys, structural analysis and archaeological analysis of the fabric to reveal the evolution of the asset and an evaluation of the relative significance of its various elements. At a lesser level historical analysis sufficient to understand its evolution, construction and the age and origin of the different elements of the asset will be required together with an evaluation of the historic interest of the elements to be altered or removed.

 Archaeological Assessment.

In cases where the development could have an adverse effect on ancient monuments and/or sites of archaeological importance applicants will be required to undertake and submit an archaeological assessment. In Areas of High Archaeological Potential and elsewhere where there is reason to believe archaeological remains exist this may require limited excavation. Further advice is available from the Somerset County Archaeologist at the Heritage Service of the Somerset County Council.

Informed conservation

What matters and why

The starting point for any conservation project should be a clear understanding of the character of the building and what it is about the building that is important or special. It may seem obvious that you need to understand what you have before you decide how to conserve or alter it, but unfortunately this is not how things have tended to happen in the past. All too often plans for a scheme of repair or alteration, driven by owners' aspirations, financial constraints or for political reasons, are drawn up without realising their potential impact on the character of the building. This often leads to conflict with the planning authorities followed by frustration on all sides. Only rarely does the building come out of it unscathed.

A publication by English Heritage should help to smooth the way. 'Informed Conservation: Understanding historic buildings and their landscapes for conservation' is aimed at conservation professionals, owners and their advisers and explains the contribution that understanding can make to the practical process of conserving historic buildings. Understanding a building means 'reading' the fabric in order to analyse its construction, alteration and use through time, and then placing it in a wider context in order to assess its significance. This makes use of historical research, architectural history and archaeological analysis. The author goes on to explain the practical methods for helping to understand buildings and the different levels of information that may be needed for different projects.

Conservation involves managing change and in order to do this it is vital to understand what matters and why.  Applicants for listed building consent should provide local authorities with full information, to enable them to assess the likely impact of their proposals on the special architectural or historic interest of the building and on its setting. Informed Conservation will be of help to anyone who provides conservation advice - architects, conservation officers, planners, craft builders, surveyors - and to owners and managers of historic buildings.

Informed Conservation (Understanding historic buildings and their landscapes for conservation) by Kate Clark 2001 is available from:

English Heritage Postal Sales, Knights of Old Limited, Kettering Parkway, Kettering, Northampton NN15 6XU. Tel: 01536 533500