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Time to take a creative approach to conservation

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With reference to your 'Three Richards to Review Guidance on Historic Facades' (AJ18.5.00):

Most architects, planners and conservation officers would agree that facade retention is not good conservation practice. Indeed, paragraph 3.15 of PPG15 describes facade retention as not normally acceptable, and paragraph 2.14 makes it clear that new buildings should respect their setting but not copy their older neighbours.

The guidance note goes on to suggest that replacement buildings for gap sites, or for buildings that make no positive contribution to the character of conservation areas, should be a stimulus to imaginative, high-quality design.

As with all guidance, it is easy to select those parts of any document that suit your argument but it is not true that facade retention as a policy is encouraged by PPG15.

It is also incorrect to state that there is a key English Heritage panel reviewing this document.

In his letter of 31 January, introducing the Government's Review of Policies Relating to the Historic Environment, Alan Howarth, minister for the arts at the DCMS, makes it clear that the review will take place within an overall framework; and that this framework is to include support for the general principles set out in PPGs 15 and 16.

The sad fact behind your story is not that a few architects are complaining about facade retention, but that there is no official RIBA representation on the steering group or listed on any of the five working groups involved in this important review. The steering group for the review is to provide 'highlevel strategic guidance from the major bodies working in the appreciation and conservation of the historic environment and related fields'. That the RIBA is not seen as one of the major bodies is a consequence of the failure of the RIBA - and many architects - over the years to recognise and support conservation of the built environment as a specialist activity. Complaining after the event is not an adequate alternative.

The responses to the initial invitation to participate have already been made and the review is on to the next stage.

Certainly, we need to find good examples of new buildings in historic areas and use these to encourage others.

Adopting a creative approach to conservation issues is much more likely to succeed with the public and with clients than trying to find examples of mediocre retention. With publication of the discussion papers for the review due any day now, I hope that you will give full publicity to the consultation process and thereby assist a wide and informed debate.

Colin Johns, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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