In 2017, the year marking the 50th anniversary of the legislation that introduced Conservation Areas, C20 Society were awarded a grant by Historic England to research C20th conservation areas.
The project included research into the number of existing areas of C20th development designated as conservation areas, exemplary character appraisals for two potential new conservation areas, a scoping paper identifying a further 50 areas that the C20 Society believes likely to be suitable for future conservation area status, and guidance for local authorities on valuing C20th heritage either as stand-alone conservation areas or within areas designated for buildings of other periods.
If you work with conservation areas, you might find these seven key points of good practice in designating C20th Conservation Areas from the main report a useful reminder.
GOOD PRACTICE GUIDELINES
One of the disheartening aspects of reviewing existing conservation areas has been seeing C20th buildings described as making a detrimental, or at best neutral, contribution to the area, or dismissed as ‘unfortunate’, ‘unsympathetic’, and ‘over-scaled’. Even when C20th built heritage is recognised in the character assessment as making a positive contribution, it doesn’t always benefit from the same level of research and analysis afforded to older areas. In some cases, C20th development has been specifically excluded from the boundary of the conservation area. Whilst it is true that some C20th development was ill-considered (as is true of development of any period), this report argues for C20 buildings and planning to be researched and assessed on their own terms, rather than being automatically seen as an unsympathetic intrusion on the architecture of earlier periods.
The following good practice guidelines are intended to reinforce the work already being done by some local authorities and heritage practitioners to appropriately recognise the contribution of their C20th built heritage.
1) Research: Research the C20th buildings in the area as thoroughly as the older ones, so that they can be assessed on their own merits. Avoid assuming that any additions after a certain date are necessarily detrimental.
2) Maintenance: Try not to let poor maintenance of the building or surrounding public realm obscure the contribution made by the C20th building(s). Recognition of the building’s value can encourage improvements in maintenance.
3) Designed to be different: Consider the materiality, massing and fenestration of the buildings, not just stylistic similarity. Recognise that much post-war development was designed to be unique and eye-catching, rather than to fit in, so its impact should be assessed on these terms. Something that is starkly different may still be making a valuable contribution.
4) New technology: Buildings from the 1960s are expressions of new technology in built form: big windows and open plan spaces replaced the small windows and rooms required before cheap energy and central heating. While attitudes to energy use have now changed again, these buildings are records of that distinct era.
5) Changing needs: New needs or life-styles – for increased housing density, different shopping patterns or new commercial requirements – also produce different forms.
6) Planning: Wartime bomb damage led to comprehensive city centre regeneration and the loss of much earlier fabric. Successful innovative planning, such as new relationships of the car to the pedestrian, should be recognised.
7) Guidance: Consider whether different guidance is needed to protect the character of the C20th buildings in the area.
In summary, value C20th built heritage as much as that of the Tudor, Georgian or Victorian periods: what looks old-fashioned today will be tomorrow’s lost gem.
The research into potential conservation areas was carried out by Neil Burton and Andrew Derrick of AHP and Esther Robinson Wild of Robinson Wild Consulting. Research into existing C20 Conservation Areas was carried out by staff and volunteers at the C20 Society.
The project looked at around 65% of over 10,000 existing conservation areas in England, so if you spot any omissions, please email email@example.com so that we can add them to the list.
You can download the final report, plus information on existing and potential C20 conservation areas, below:
C20 Society Conservation Areas Project Report
C20 CA Project Report Appendix 5-1 Existing C20 Conservation Areas notes
C20 CA Project Report Appendix 5-2 List of Existing C20 Conservation Areas
C20 CA Project Short Reports on Potential Conservation Areas