Market Intelligence
Local Authority Conservation Specialists Jobs Market 2016

RN2017/1, Jan 2017

This is one of a series of occasional IHBC Research Notes published by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC).
IHBC Research Notes offer current and recent research into topics that we consider crucial to the promotion of good built and historic environment conservation policy and practice. The Notes necessarily reflect knowledge and practice at the time they were developed, while the IHBC always welcomes new case examples, feedback and comment to for future revisions and updates.

Executive Summary

  • The Institute’s data set now covers about 1723 posts over 19 years since 1998.
  • In 2016 posts advertised in England contracted from the previous year after four years of growth in capacity after 2012. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary setback in an era of public sector volatility or part of a longer-term contraction in the public sector.
  • The unexpected emergence of an equal number of permanent or impermanent and/or part-time posts in 2014 appears to have been reversed.
  • The average median salary advertised for advertised posts in 2016 was £30,892 a rise of 4.9% (offsetting a 3.2% fall in 2015).
  • The requirement by local planning authorities that it is essential or desirable for applicants to be members of IHBC continues a rising trend. 71% of Councils specified this in 2016 (up from 65% in 2015). This strongly indicates the strength of the Institute’s brand recognition and the value placed by employers on the professional status and competences of its members.
  • Development management advice and appeals continue to dominate job functions with half of all local government jobs identifying this as the key priority role but a slightly greater diversification of workload was also detected regarding increased conservation are management activities but still not as a high priority as we approach the 50th anniversary of the first designations.
  • Six or more of IHBC’s ten English Branches had more than eight advertised vacancies during 2016 but only three in total between the North West and Yorkshire, well below the vacancies elsewhere.
  • Higher salaries continued to be paid in London and the South East as might be anticipated, but salary levels continue to be depressed in the South West and West Midlands while most other areas hover around the national average.


1. Background

1.1 This annual review aims to complement the information gathered in the regular series of Local Authority Conservation Provision Studies undertaken since 2006 by IHBC with support from Historic England. [1]

1.2 The Institute’s data set concerning advertised local authority conservation posts has been compiled since 1998. This now comprises data on over 1723 posts going back 19 years. [2]

1.3 The current Note summarises the job vacancies in the calendar year 2016 enabling the Institute to assimilate a more detailed picture about the trends in the market including job requirements, qualifications, levels of remuneration etc., together with regional variations and other long-term trends.

1.4 The Institute monitors vacancies on a weekly basis and although this covers England, Scotland and Wales (but not Northern Ireland), the statistics in this Note relate to England only unless otherwise stated as the annual number of vacancies for the other Home Countries is too small to enable most of the meaningful statistical trends defined in England to be separately delineated.

1.5 in the past year the IHBC has captured data on the extent to which authorities were unable to fill vacancies and needed to re-advertise posts that could not be filled within a six month period, although in practice most re-advertisements took place within three months.


2. Size of the market

2.1 Posts advertised in England grew steadily in the late 1990s to a peak of 158 per year in 2003-4 before falling again year on year until the start of the Recession. By 2008-9 the annual level had returned to its 1999-2000 level (93 vacancies) but thereafter the fall was precipitous with only 26 vacancies advertised for all English local planning authorities in both 2010-11 and 2011-12.

2.2 Although there were encouraging signs that the local authority jobs market had recovered quite strongly in 2015 (growing by 34% over 2014), in 2016 the market slipped back markedly again, declining by 30%.

2.3 The annual review in 2014 had questioned how long the recent upward trend in posts might continue given the ever-present constraints on local authority expenditure. A further squeeze on Council spending on front line services in 2016 appears to have taken place and the local authority jobs market will be followed closely in 2017 in the light of the economic uncertainties and the impact on the public finances stemming from the EU Referendum vote.

2.4 Additionally, it was clear in 2016 that some authorities were struggling to recruit conservation specialists at the first attempt. Nineteen posts in England were re-advertised within six-months; thirteen of these appearing within three months.

2.5 The steep rise in the number of either temporary or part-time advertised posts (or both) noted in 2014 (where these were about equal to the number of permanent posts) appears to be a less evident phenomenon. About 40% of posts in 2016 were either temporary or part-time advertised posts or both. This is dealt with further in paragraph 4.2 below.


3. General salary levels

3.1 Salaries are almost invariably expressed as a range. [3] Employers usually expect successful appointees to commence at the bottom of the quoted scale and progress upward on the basis of qualifications and experience. [4] Some posts set salary milestones regarding career progression, such as gaining an additional post-graduate qualification or professional institutional recognition such as full membership of IHBC.

3.2 The average starting salary in England in 2016-17 was £28,791 with the average finishing salary £32,993. This resulted in a median salary of £30,892 an increase of 4.9% on the previous year - although in 2015 that figure had fallen by 3.2% from the year before - so a slight recovery over three years can be detected.

3.3 It should be noted that National averages may potentially be distorted in two ways:

  1. by a small number of posts with unusually low starting salaries (typically graduate posts); or unusually high (typically senior management positions – mainly London); and
  2. • by regional variations (typically higher salaries paid in London);

but, as the numbers of posts increases the influence of such anomalies decreases and the relatively high number of advertised posts in 2016 helped maintain the robustness of the data. [5] Further comment about regional salary variations is made in Section 7 below.


4. Balance of permanent posts to temporary & part time posts

4.1 In 1998 the vast majority of vacancies in local planning authorities were permanent. Where fixed term posts were advertised these were usually related to, for example, fixed-term lottery funded grant schemes or short-term posts as cover for e.g. maternity leave [6] (some of these also being part-time). For a time a number of temporary or fixed-term jobs were also funded by the Planning Delivery Grant - particularly to meet the requirements of Best Value Performance Indicator 219 on conservation area appraisals. [7]

4.2 Temporary or part-time advertised posts (or both) equalling the number of permanent posts noted in 2014-15 appears to be an increasingly isolated phenomenon.

Table 1. Permanent & temporary posts 2016 (2015 in italics)
Permanent 43 59.7% 65 63.1%
Fixed term 13 18.0% 14 13.6%
Fixed term and part time 11 15.3% 7 6.8%
Part time 5 7.0% 17 16.5%
TOTAL 72 100% 103 100%

4.3 Of the 24 fixed term posts advertised in 2016, eight were related to Townscape Heritage Initiative or other HLF supported projects [8] and two were for maternity cover. While two posts were for conservation area surveys and heritage at risk initiatives respectively, the remainder were general wide-ranging heritage management duties. The duration of contracts were evenly split between 12 months and under or 24 months.


5. Qualifications and expertise

5.1 The stated educational requirements for posts varied significantly in 2016 as set out in Table 2.

Table 2. Educational Requirements
(where IHBC membership was also a consideration) (2015 in italics)
  2016   2015
Degree 16 22.2% 22 21.4%
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification 1 1.3% 8 7.8%
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 14 19.5% 18 17.5%
Degree + IHBC 33 44.8% 38 36.9%
Qualification 1 1.3% 6 5.8%
Qualification + IHBC - 1.3% 6 5.8%
Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 2 2.6% 2 1.9%
Diploma standard + IHBC 2 2.6% 1 1.0%
'IHBC' - - 2 1.9%
Other: A-Level, B.Tec., NVQ etc. 3 4.2% - -
  103 100% 103 100%

5.2 In addition to the requirements shown above, many job specifications stipulated degrees from any one of a range of disciplines (e.g. Planning, Architecture, Urban Design, Conservation). Almost half the posts did not specifically require a qualification in a heritage related discipline, but while some of these merely required education to degree level, the remainder specified IHBC membership instead.

5.3 In contrast to previous years hardly any posts expressed a preference for membership of the RTPI although it was considered as a satisfactory alternative to IHBC membership for 13 of the vacancies (18%) with RIBA membership specified less - 6 instances (in 9 in 2015); the RICS twice and and CIfA nil (as in 2014).

5.4 A requirement to be a full member of IHBC (or less commonly to be working towards full membership) has become more common practice among local planning authorities in recent years. In 2016 fifty-one of the advertised posts (71%) considered this essential or desirable (up from 65% in 2015 and just under 40% in 2014). This continues to suggest strong recognition for IHBC and the significance of a recognised set of competences and professional status. The corresponding figures for 2012 and 2013 were 27% and 34% respectively.

5.5 In recent years the need for a post-graduate qualification in conservation remained generally static. This was a requirement in 2015 just over 25% of vacancies (24% in 2014) but in 2016 this fell to 19.4%.

5.6 Post-graduate qualification may reflect the validation of a specialism in an increasingly fluid job market (and the nature of changing career paths) but it either does not seem to indicate added value to employers, or it may be being dropped if it appears to be a barrier to recruitment.

5.7 Any potential concerns by local planning authorities in 2016 that recruitment might be hampered by a shortage of candidates with the necessary specialist heritage skills does not seem to be borne out by the job descriptions accompanying the posts advertised. No discernible trend was detected where recruiters sought to appoint staff who were notably less specialised or less well qualified than the demands of the post required, but as noted in 2015, if less rigorous requirements were being set, these posts may well not have been the ones advertised with the Institute.

5.8 The problem of recruitment of suitable specialists is becoming increasingly evident. During 2016 nineteen posts (26% of posts) were re-advertised within six months (compared to just under 12% in 2015), presumably because of a failure to recruit suitable candidates or employees leaving swiftly (for whatever reason) after appointment. Thirteen of these posts were re-advertised within three months.


6. Roles & responsibilities

6.1 A degree of caution is noted every year in evaluating the workload priorities set out in job descriptions as the proportions of time expected to be devoted to individual tasks is rarely stated, nor are these necessarily adhered to in practice. Furthermore the priorities set out in the job advertisement do not always tally with those in the formal job specification – which is inevitably more wide ranging and may express overall long term management objectives rather than short term priorities. When post-holders change, the opportunity is sometimes taken to update the job description to enable specific priorities to be refocused.

6.2 In practice it is inevitable that short-term, time-limited, high priority workload such as development management advice will usually take priority over large-scale, long-term workload such as the heritage-at-risk issues or enforcement or conservation area appraisals.

6.3 During the year newly appointed local authority conservation specialists were asked to perform a more limited range of functions than had been seen in the past. It was also noted that there was a diminution of the tasks the Institute considers to constitute the well-balanced workload necessary for the proper management of the local historic environment.

6.4 Development management advice or direct DM casework management continued to be given highest priority with a greater number of job descriptions identifying this as a priority (50%) although slightly less than in the previous year. Nevertheless this was also strongly allied with work related to appeals, enforcement and inquiries (28%). Encouragingly far fewer posts appeared to be devoted exclusively to development management related tasks (19% in 2014) suggesting something of a rebalancing to a more broad based service and the possibility of a more proactive rather than reactive output.

6.5 About 23% of posts identified conservation area character appraisals and management plans as a specific function with a further 11% referring specifically to conservation area designation and review, but only 5.5% of authorities made either of these functions a first priority of the post and it was usually third or fourth in a list of tasks usually headed by development management and appeals.

6.6 As noted over several years while conservation areas remain a priority, it is not a high priority despite the potential to inform better development management decisions in the year prior to the 50th anniversary of the legislation enabling conservation area designation. It is also probably a reflection of the resources required for designation, review and/or appraisal and what is usually large-scale, long-term workload of the kind suggested by, for example, Annual Conservation Management Plans or excellent service delivery models. [9]

6.7 Notwithstanding the emphasis placed by Historic England on heritage-at-risk initiatives - including the training and use of voluntary groups to undertake surveys – it remains the case that this area of heritage management was not widely reflected in job descriptions with only 13% of job specifications (about the same as the previous year) identifying this as workload to be carried out. This continues to call into question how the necessary statutory action will be taken to reduce the size of the problem.

6.8 Few other priorities clearly stand out although there are references to design advice (separate from that regarding applications), to urban design strategies and to the undefined preparation of “heritage statements” (three times). Just 5% of the authorities sought to prepare a list of buildings of local interest.

6.9 The analysis above does not necessarily imply that in some authorities these specific activities are not already being undertaken nor that other tasks such as offering technical and policy advice or schemes of regeneration initiative are not required, just that their infrequency may not be the priorities of management or local politicians for the new post-holder.

7. Regional variations

7.1 The IHBC’s data sets make it possible to evaluate regional variations in salaries for local authority conservation specialists and these figures for 2016 are set out in Table 3.

7.2 In 2015 in seven regions [10] the number of advertised vacancies ranged from just one in Yorkshire and two in the North West, to thirteen in East Anglia but across the rest of England about eight to nine per Branch was the norm. Where the numbers were low the sample sizes obviously need to be treated with great caution or discounted.

7.3 As might be expected median salary scales in London have been consistently higher than in other regions, reflecting higher living and travelling costs. These have consistently influenced the national averages since data was first collected in 1998.

7.4 Pay in the South and South East over the long-term has also been consistently somewhat higher than the national average (possibly influenced by the proximity to London and high numbers of heritage assets), although in 2016 salary levels in the South East were lower than the average in 2016 having been marginally higher for several years. In 2016 London median salaries were about 16% higher and in the South about 7.5% higher.

7.5 Salaries in the South West and West Midlands have been consistently lower than the England average although no clear explanation can be offered for this. As already noted the North West and Yorkshire samples are too small to be meaningful but in the latter Branch in particular the number of advertised posts has historically always been quite low.

7.6 In East Anglia and the East Midlands median salaries have generally always hovered around the median level.

Table 3. Regional Variations in Median Salaries 2015
Region Sample Median (£) Variation (%)
East Anglia 13 31,269 +1.22%
East Midlands 9 30,440 -1.46%
London 8 35,829 +15.98%
North 5 32,082 +15.98%
North West 2 30,597 -0.95%
South 11 33,206 +7.49%
South East 7 30,156 -2.38%
South West 9 28,698 -7.10%
West Midlands 8 26,278 -14.93%
Yorkshire 1 24,472 -20.78%
Total 102 (30,892)  

8. Concluding Note

8.1 The local authority jobs market in 2016 has contracted markedly in the past year from a consistent rebuilding of capacity since 2012. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary setback, in an era of public sector volatility or part of a longer term contraction of posts.

8.2 The Institute intends to web-publish a further market intelligence report on the local authority conservation specialist jobs market 2017 in January 2018.



[1] Prior to April 1st 2105 this support came from English Heritage

[2] Between 1998 and c.2009, information concerning local authority vacancies were drawn principally from the weekly pages of Planning magazine. Thereafter the decline in planning related posts, the switch to a fortnightly publication of Planning coupled with the development of the IHBC’s web-based jobs pages saw the advertising of conservation posts move almost exclusively from the former to the latter. Although posts may occasionally be advertised elsewhere, the data in this Note drawn from these two sources is thought to be near definitive.

[3] Although occasionally only a fixed starting or finishing salary is stated. Ranges are usually given even for when appointments are short or fixed term.

[4] In the past in salary progression was also on the basis of an annual increment within the overall scales but the steps within the quoted range is usually short.

[5] To compensate for the effect of unusually low or unusually high ends of salary ranges a comparative analysis is also made by subtracting the three highest and three lowest starting and finishing salaries during the year from the overall sample. This nevertheless generates very similar figures to the overall averages above i.e. generates typical “smoothed” starting salary of £28,897; a finishing salary £33,084; and a median of £30,990.

[6] Some of the posts covered being part-time in the first place.

[7] This national performance indicator was trialled in 2004-5 and introduced in 2006 but abandoned by central government in 2010. Some authorities undertook a programme of appraisals in anticipation of a future national requirement for service uplift, while others simply used the indicator as a pretext to justify additional resources for conservation services. The problems with the indicator were various, not least it not actually being an indicator [as it did not encourage service improvement]. Many authorities also had such a backlog of o many appraisals to complete do they could not justify the long-term resource commitment.

[8] Includes Sunderland Pier Project, and ranges from 24 to 60 months duration.

[9] See IHBC Guidance Note: Annual Conservation Management Statements – Best Practice GN2014/2 Sept 2014 Accessible at:

[10] Corresponding in area to the relevant IHBC Branch.