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Conservation Area Review



a. Anne-Marie Lomax Historic Areas Officer. I work for Planning Services in the Policy, Design & Conservation Section, I work part-time Tuesday to Thursday and my job is to review all Conservation Areas within TVBC.
b. To explain the background to the review i.e. to explain the context within which we’re operating and the likely approach and procedure.
c. To make contact with you to see who I can contact when I need further advice/information about the village and to ask if anyone would be willing to check the draft of the character appraisal when I’ve written it.

The Conservation Area Review

  (1) What is a Conservation Area?
  (2) Why are they designated & Criteria for designation.
  (3) Why is the review being done?
  (4) Conservation Area Character Appraisal.

1. What is a Conservation Area?

Abbotts Ann Conservation Area was declared in 1981. Conservation Areas are defined in the Planning Acts as “areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.”

Conservation areas were introduced in 1967 under the Civic Amenities Act – the first legislation designed to protect historic areas as a whole. The emphasis in declaring conservation areas is on conservation of the built environment 

2. Why are they designated and Criteria for designation

Local Authorities have a duty under the Planning Acts to periodically review existing conservation areas and to consider designating new areas. Guidance is offered about how to do this through advice from Central Government in the form of Planning Policy Guidance (PPG 15 Planning and the Historic Environment) and specific advice from English Heritage (such as ‘Conservation Area Practice’ a guidance manual on the Management of Conservation Areas)

a. Criteria for designation. There is no standard specification for selecting conservation areas as they vary so much in terms of size, location, previous use etc. PPG 15 advises local authorities however to draw up their own set of criteria when considering designating or amending existing conservation areas. The following criteria were approved by Test Valley Borough Council’s Executive in May 2002 :

  (1) The majority of buildings to have strong intrinsic architectural or historic merit by virtue of age, design, materials etc.
  (2) The area represents an important phase in the historic development of the town/village
  (3) The properties as a group should make an important contribution in townscape terms
  (4) The area represents a fine piece of town/village planning
  (5) The area includes good examples of the work of well known architects
  (6) The area has a distinctive character derived from its historic pattern of land uses

3. Why is the review being done?

It is 23 years since Abbotts Ann Conservation Area was declared and a lot of changes have happened since that time not only in Abbotts Ann but also in terms of the way conservation areas are administered. The process has tightened up a lot in recent years. PPG 15 advises that “it is important that conservation areas are seen to justify their status and the concept is not devalued by the designation (or retention ) of areas lacking special interest. Authorities should seek to establish consistent local standards for their designation and should periodically review existing conservation areas and their boundaries against those standards : cancellation of designation should be considered where an area or part of an area is no longer considered to possess the special interest which led to its original designation.”

PPG 15 goes on to explain that the more clearly the special architectural or historic interest that justified designation is defined and recorded the sounder will be the basis for local plan policies and development control decisions. The principal concern of a LPA in reviewing a conservation area is to question whether the area is still “of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.”

PPG 15 reminds LPA’s that they need to take into account the likely resources available to administer Conservation Areas, and to question whether all areas within the conservation area really justify the additional costs entailed in administering conservation areas e.g. advertising applications for conservation area consent, works to trees etc. Is it reasonable to ask people living in new houses built since the conservation area was designated to endure additional controls over what they can build, even down to things like installing satellite dishes etc?

Since the conservation area was designated planning policies designed to protect the environment have been strengthened. Pressure is often put on local authorities to draw wide boundaries around rural conservation areas as a way of protecting open countryside from development or for controlling certain activities (e.g. agricultural operations) which do not fall within the definition of development. This is not the function of a conservation area .The new boundary of the conservation area would need to be fully justified. While it may be valid to include land within a conservation area where it can be demonstrated that there is a clear relationship between the area of land and the historic core of the settlement and its setting, English Heritage in its guidance note ‘Conservation Area Practice’ advises that “the immediate setting of the area also needs to be carefully considered and within reason included in the boundary if protection is desirable.” However it goes on to say that ” Conservation areadesignation is not generally an appropriate means of protecting landscape and the countryside unless related to historic gardens and parkland associated (or formerly associated) with buildings and containing trees or structures deserving protection, areas where the man-made component is significant or areas of particular historic interest. If the wider landscape is of intrinsic importance, there may be alternative ways of protecting it e.g. as a SSSI or as an AONB.

Local authorities now need to justify more rigorously why a particular building or feature has been included within a conservation area which they can defend on appeal. LPA’s which have not carried out these reviews have quite rightly been criticised by Government Inspectors for failing to undertake this process. Conservation Area reviews may well conclude that conservation area boundaries have been drawn too tightly or even that they were drawn too widely.

We are looking objectively at the conservation area boundaries at Abbotts Ann to ensure they are firm, can be justified and can be defended. We are looking at the existing conservation area and grading buildings/features within the village into 3 main categories to identify which :

  (a) Make a positive contribution to the character of the conservation area (e.g. listed buildings, unlisted buildings of merit, important landscape features etc.)
  (b) Neutral buildings/features which neither detract from or enhance the character
  (c) Buildings/features which make no contribution to the character (e.g. modern housing of little architectural or historic character or land which is not managed in a traditional way , e.g. former water meadows now used as domestic gardens or commercial woodland.)

We will then use this information as the basis on which to decide whether or not the boundaries need revising. This work has only just started. No firm decisions have yet been made.

4. Conservation Area Character Appraisal

English Heritage advises that “it is essential for local authorities regularly to re-evaluate and confirm the importance of the conservation areas in their districts, to be clear about the special interest which it is sought to preserve and enhance ..” recommending that when new conservation areas are designated or existing conservation areas are reviewed that local authorities prepare a Conservation Area Character Appraisal to justify the reasons for designation. This will define and record what features contribute to the special architectural or historic interest of the area. PPG 15 explains that “the more clearly the special architectural or historic interest that justifies designation is defined and recorded, the sounder will be the basis for local plan policies and development control decisions.”

The Character Appraisal will include a detailed analysis of the area and will cover aspects such as:

  (a) Topography
  (b) Archaeology
  (c) The architectural and historic quality, character and coherence of the buildings – both listed and unlisted and the contribution they make to the character of the conservation area
  (d) Character and quality of spaces
  (e) Prevalent and traditional building materials
  (f) Contribution made by trees and other green spaces to the character of the area
  (g) Prevailing (& former) uses within the area
  (h) Relationship of built environment to the landscape/open countryside
  (i) Negative factors
  (j) Neutral areas

How does the Character Appraisal relate to the VDS? There is inevitably a certain amount of overlap between the VDS and the Character Appraisal. We are aware of your excellently produced VDS and realise that a lot of the information you have collected and your local knowledge will be invaluable to our work, and I look forward to working with you. The main difference between the 2 is that a VDS may cover the whole of a village while the Appraisal has to focus in more detail on a more specific area – the conservation area. Both documents can work in tandem and be used to guide future development in Abbotts Ann.

The Process is:

  (k) Following this meeting, survey work will continue, looking critically at the boundaries, analysing the quality of buildings/features within the conservation area and considering revisions to the boundaries. The draft version of the conservation area character appraisal will be prepared
  (l) To obtain the views of local residents it is proposed to hold an exhibition outlining proposals for the review and summarising the character appraisal
  (m) The exhibition will hopefully be held in the village and the public invited to comment
  (n) The comments will be analysed and amended as appropriate. A report will then be presented to TVBC’s Executive recommending the new boundaries and seeking approval of the draft Character Appraisal. The appraisal will then be redrafted and printed.

Leaflets and Maps

TVBC is currently working on a range of conservation leaflets which are currently at the printers. These include a general leaflet to assist people who own or live in a property in a conservation. They summarise do’s and don’ts about how to maintain the character of the conservation area, which works require consent, work to trees etc. We’ve also produced 4 general leaflets on Listed buildings which provide good practical advice on looking after a listed building. The conservation area maps have also been updated and can be viewed here.