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Modern planning guidelines to protect and enhance historic environment

Housing and planning minister John Healey has announced planning policy statement 15: planning for the historic environment

The new guidelines encourage councils and developers to make the most of the nation’s historic assets such as Victorian stations or canals for imaginative developments across the country.

John Healey said: ‘Our historic assets are hugely important for local people and for the tourist industry and we need to conserve and protect them for future generations.

‘This means making these assets part of our plans for regenerating our towns and cities. If you’re redeveloping your town centre you should be making the most of existing streetscapes, canal side sites or former breweries. A prime example is St Pancras where the old station was transformed into a high standard railway whilst retaining Gilbert Scott’s original design.

The new policy, which is accompanied by detailed guidance from English Heritage, said that councils and developers should use the historic environment to stimulate and inspire new buildings and development of imaginative and high quality design.

Councils need to monitor all their historic assets, from listed buildings, conservation areas, scheduled monuments and archaeological sites and landscapes. Some historic buildings from theatres to churches are decaying with age and require quick decisions to secure their future instead of being left in place unmaintained.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage said: ‘A key shift in the Planning Policy Statement is that it encourages everyone to first understand what is significant about a particular building and site before implementing change. This should cut the number of poorly thought-through applications and ensure that our heritage can be made fit for a wide range of purposes without damaging what makes it special.  

‘Fundamentally, it will help owners of heritage sites and buildings to make better applications, assist local authorities in making robust decisions and ensure that future generations are handed on a heritage that is attractive, useful and relevant.’

Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology and chairmen of Heritage Link’s Spatial Planning Advocacy Group said ‘This is a key consultation as the policy statement will impact on the management of the whole historic environment, not just the elements covered by national designation. The support for local authority historic environment services is crucial, and we need to scrutinise the draft carefully, together with the practice guidance, to ensure that it maximises the opportunities for public benefit.’

The new PPS:

  • Ensures there is a focus on understanding what is significant about a building, site or landscape so that it becomes easier to determine the impact of the proposed change. It uses the ‘values’ approach of English Heritage’s Conservation Principles as an underlying philosophy to inform decision-making.
  • Urges councils to monitor all their historic assets. For example, local authorities will be urged to create publicly-accessible Historic Environment Records which developers will be expected to consult so that they can take into account the historic environment impacts of their applications.
  • Supports constructive conservation. It encourages active exploitation of the heritage as an asset rather than seeing it as a potential barrier to development.
  • Introducesnew clearer policies on setting and design, issues which are frequently the source of the most contentious cases involving the historic environment.
  • Puts the historic environment in the context of the challenge of climate change. Councils weigh carefully any loss of enhancement of the asset and its setting against the benefits of the application such asincreased production of energy from low or zero-carbon sources. The greater the negative impact on the significance of the asset, the greater the benefits that will be needed to justify approval.
  • Deals with all types of heritage in a single document.  It brings in a new, integrated approach to the historic environment and ‘heritage assets’, moving beyond the outdated distinction between buildings and archaeology.
  • Greater emphasis on pre-application planning and discussion.Councils and developers should learn about the significance of affected heritage assets before designs are drawn up – the more they understand the asset, the greater the chances of a successful application.
  • Maintains the same level of protection for the historic environmentas the current PPGs 15 and 16 but expresses the policy much more succinctly making it easier for councils to use (number of pages has been cut from over 100 to around 13).
  • Provides greater clarity on key topics e.g. archaeological interest, conservation areas and their preservation and enhancement, World Heritage Sites, conflicts with other planning priorities and recording

Readers' comments (4)

  • Great. So why is English Heritage supporting the demolition, in a Conservation Area, of the Bradford Odeon?

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  • PPG 15 was an excellent document. No need to cut it, it will simply make for confusion and less protection.

    Basically, that's what the government wants, it has no real interest in heritage protection.

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  • Sergei Jargin

    New and old wooden architecture of northern Russia

    Wooden architecture of Russian North (Karelia, Archangelsk, Vologda districts and neighbouring areas) is one of the most remarkable forms of traditional Russian architecture. Very interesting are village houses, which are large, two-storied (cattle was disposed in the ground floor, in a separate part of the house under a hayloft), some of them bearing lavish external décor. Most remarkable are the churches, which were built mainly from wood in villages and small towns. Some of them, the so-called churches of tent- or spire-type, resemble Gothic wooden churches of Scandinavia: the outlines are more or less similar, one of the distinctions being small onion-shaped cupolas crowning the spires. This form was reproduced also in stone or brick, presumably after the example of wooden churches. Another structure characteristic for Russian architecture: octagon on a quadrangle, crowned by five domes, the latter being typical also for stone or brick churches of 15-17th centuries. Another distinctive form, which can be encountered only in northern Russia, are the so-called cube-type churches: massive quadrangular base with a figured superstructure that can have a gable formed as an upturned heart or alike, which in its turn can be crowned by five small-sized domes. Some smaller churches were built similar to a village house, differing from them by a small onion-shaped dome. The majority of churches preserved until today are from 17-19th centuries but singular ones are dated as early as 14th century. Some churches, for example, the famous cathedral in Kizhi, have a more complicated form with numerous domes. Often the so-called troiniks (triplets), consisting of a larger summer church, a smaller heated winter church and a bell tower, were built in villages and small towns.
    It is well known and sad reality that great number of churches were destroyed during Soviet time, also those several centuries old. Besides, a dubious practice of transportation to open air museums was applied to wooden architecture. Authenticity is partly lost in this way, while a new exhibit is constructed from the mixture of old and new wood. The churches were torn out of their natural environment and taken away from local inhabitants together with the hopes for jobs in the developing tourist business. Probably, it would have been more reasonable to conserve the churches in their original locations and to build copies in the open-air museums. Admittedly, restoration of architectural monuments was usually performed during Soviet time on a relatively high level, with participation of professional restorers.
    Destruction of wooden architectural monuments has been continued until today: ancient churches are collapsing and burning down. According to the information from the Onega historical and memorial museum (Archangelsk district) and the map exposed there, majority of wooden churches in the surroundings of Onega river have been destroyed or burnt down during last decades. Besides, local inhabitants and museum co-workers witness that icons and details of the church interior have been systematically stolen: there have been no guards, locks were broken open, which was particularly easy during the dark northern winters. As almost no icons have remained in the churches, the so-called Heaven (a painted ceiling located within a spire) was often broken off from wooden churches. Note that the Heaven, apart from its aesthetic value, bears a mechanical function of strengthening and consolidating the spire. Besides, if the roof is leaky, it protects the church interior from the rain water. Therefore, removal of the Heaven contributes to the destruction of a church.
    Questions about causes of conflagrations are answered with the standard "children played with fire" or, for example, "peasants wanted to get free the southern slope of the hill for a potato field" (in the village Ust-Kozha, where the famous troinik burnt down in the 1990s). It is not verisimilar, though: the cases are known when local inhabitants rescued burning churches from fire. Icons were burning together with the churches. There has been a lot of illegal trade with icons in the near past… The thieves could have set fire to the churches to cover up the traces. Besides, information is being spread among local inhabitants, obviously directed against professional restorers and the intelligentsia in general: "restorers have stolen the icons" or "students were sent to restore the church but they destroyed more than repaired" etc. The public opinion is prepared in this way to the restoration and rebuilding of wooden churches by construction firms without participation of professional restorers, without much care given to authenticity or identity to the original, in order to create beautiful attractions for undemanding tourists. Another mechanism leading to appearance of new "pseudo-traditional" edifices - construction of new churches on the orders from Moscow Patriarchy. There are already several examples of newly built pseudo-traditional churches, constructed from new or old wood (e.g. in the town Kem', from where tourist ships are going to the Solovki island in the White Sea with its famous monastery). Such edifices are sometimes hardly distinguishable from authentic monuments, especially for non-specialists; while tourist guides tend sometimes to conceal the fact that some monuments have been built anew. All said, there are grounds for optimism. The growing Russian economy makes possible today improving the roads and developing the infrastructure. Hopefully, scientifically correct preservation and restoration of the built environment will win through in the near future, and this letter will be only of historic interest. Jargin SV (Moscow)

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  • Sergei Jargin

    Mould in residential buildings and its role in reconstruction of Moscow

    Mould and its role in the deterioration of the indoor air quality is a widely discussed theme [1-3]. The impetus for writing of this letter was misuse of the term “fungus” in order to justify major repairs and reconstructions of buildings in the historic centre of Moscow. In recent articles [4,5] it was elucidated in detail: economic growth in Russia was accompanied by a rise in real-estate prices; big investors are purchasing apartments in old houses in the city centre, perform major repair with a re-layout, in view to renting them out, which is accompanied by resettlement of the former residents. This process is facilitated by rumours that the old houses would be demolished or undergo major repairs with compulsory resettlement of inhabitants. Catchphrases like “wooden bearing structures are rotten” or “wastewater tubes are obstructed by rust and must be replaced” were used for that purpose. Ignorance of inhabitants in technical matters is exploited in this way. Fungus had a central place in such gossip: it allegedly infects the walls and discharges harmful substances. Construction firms, understandably, advice that all coverings must be removed down to the bearing walls and replaced by modern materials. In fact, the problem of mould should not be overestimated. Although fungal spores are present everywhere, it is when dampness and moisture are uncontrolled that fungi grow and thus develop into visible mould [1]. The key to the mould control is moisture control [2]. Elimination of leaks and removal of mouldy items are the primary measures [3]. Use of fungicides or disinfection products is controversial [2] and may be an additional load to indoor chemical exposures [1]. Leakages are hard to prevent completely in some houses, which is favoured by major repairs preformed in some apartments, others being left intact, without preceding repair of water conduits; re-layouts with e.g. installation of new bathrooms in poorly adapted places and so forth. Walls and ceilings should have a possibility to dry out. Accordingly, in the houses where leakages cannot be prevented for sure, the best coverings are whitewashing and wallpaper, which can be easily renovated. Repeated leakages and mould in houses are contraindications for the use of low-permeability materials impeding evaporation and causing water congestion in the depth. Cases are known when leakages remained unnoticed for a long time in newly repaired apartments: water spread under the tiles and modern coverings, false ceilings masked moisture above them etc. In this way, optimal conditions for mould development are created. On the contrary, in apartments with simple wallpaper and whitewashing, leakages were noticed without delay and immediate measures taken. Finally, washing of wooden floors, an ingrained habit in Russia, contributes to the growth of mould. It is obviously preferable to repeatedly cover wooden floors with lacquer or paint, depending of its type and aesthetic value. In conclusion, the problem of mould in residential premises should not be overestimated and used as a pretext for major reconstruction of historic buildings. (S. Jargin, Moscow)

    References

    1. Loftness V, Hakkinen B, Adan O, Nevalainen A. Elements that contribute to healthy building design. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(6):965-70.

    2. Mazur LJ, Kim J; Committee on Environmental Health, American Academy of Pediatrics. Spectrum of noninfectious health effects from molds. Pediatrics. 2006;118(6):e1909-26.

    3. Krieger J, Jacobs DE, Ashley PJ, Baeder A, Chew GL, Dearborn D, Hynes HP, Miller JD, Morley R, Rabito F, Zeldin DC. Housing interventions and control of asthma-related indoor biologic agents: a review of the evidence. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2010;16(5 Suppl):S11-20.

    4. Jargin SV. Moscow reconstruction: some mechanisms. Domus Magazine 2010; 934:125-6

    5. Jargin SV. Mechanisms of Moscow reconstruction (in Russian). Architecture and construction of Moscow 2011; 1(555):41-45 Images: http://mos-arch.ru/o-mehanizmah-rekonstrukcii-moskvy



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