Context 139 - May 2015

34 C O N T E X T 1 3 9 : M A Y 2 0 1 5 JUSTIN WEBBER Sweating heritage assets The lessons learnt from developing a conservation areas management plan show how proactive management can be end in itself and a way of shoring up in-house resources. The aspiration for a less reactive approach to managing change in conservation areas comes at an unfortunate time.The latest research showing a 35 per cent decline in local authority conservation posts since 2006 1 sits in the context of a similar decline in overall local authority budgets. Future funding settlements are likely to be no less challenging, with rising demands, such as from adult social care, demanding ever-higher proportions of budgets that are shrinking in absolute terms anyway. Despite this problematic setting, there is a strong case for more proactive management of conservation areas, both as an end in itself and as a mechanism for shoring up in-house conservation resources. Unfortunately, there are currently no accurate figures for the proportion of conservation areas with adopted management plans. When Best Value Performance Indicator 219c was last recorded in 2006–07 it showed that 16 per cent of conservation areas in England had an adopted management plan. English Heritage does conduct annual surveys, and the data for the East of England this year showed that around a quarter of conservation areas in the region had a management plan. However, given that data was not returned for nearly a third of conservation areas, it would be fair to assume that the actual figure is probably lower. Collecting the complete data set for Hertfordshire shows that 13 per cent of conservation areas currently have an adopted management plan, suggesting that the BVPI figure from 2006–07 might not still be wildly inaccurate. There are two dedicated guides to managing conservation areas, both of which are available to down- load for free online. Produced by the English Historic Towns Forum in 1998, ConservationArea Management:a practical guide 2 has many helpful suggestions. Although clearly dated, it is an accessible document that avoids impenetrable language.More up to date is Understanding Place:conservation area designation,appraisal and manage- ment 3, which was published by English Heritage in 2011. This provides a very efficient introduction to the subject, but with only three pages dedicated to conservation area management (the 2006 equivalent had 13 pages), it is a bit like the equivalent of a film trailer. Brevity is partly achieved though by providing links to other linked documents and case studies. The industry leader in conservation area management plans covers Aylesbury Vale District4. The consultants involved in producing this document had the unenviable task of producing something that would cover all 120 conservation areas in the district.The resulting work is effectively a more nuanced version of a national guidance document, rather than a detailed guide to management proposals in individual conservation areas. For local authorities seeking to produce a management plan for an individual conservation area, or for a much smaller number of them, a good example is the Sutton Garden Suburb ConservationAreaManagement Plan,which was produced by the London Borough of Sutton in 20085. A relatively short and clear document, the format has the ability to be scaled up for a document covering a larger number of conservation areas. Councillors promoting a de-cluttering project