Context 162 - November 2019

26 C O N T E X T 1 6 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 encouraging local authorities to adopt tailored heritage principles in their spatial strategies to conserve the historic environment. Increasingly we have been seeing a trend of local authorities joining forces to create joint plans to deliver garden communities across local boundaries at a quasi-regional level. The process of identifying their location should be underpinned by a strong, objective evidence base for the historic environment from the out- set. A key aspect of this will be the compilation of sub-regional heritage studies that will include characterisation and archaeological assessment work, and high-level heritage impact assess- ments. Helpfully, the Garden Communities Prospectus identifies the importance of using preparatory studies to support the delivery of high-quality development. Indeed such studies will be needed to provide a sound foundation for the sustainability appraisal process so that the likely impacts on the historic environment can be meaningfully understood. Subsequently, this information will help local authorities plan for how the historic environment will be managed and should inform master planning. In practice, however, heritage considerations are often not factored in until later in the process, when key decisions have already been taken. This can upset the planning process, causing lengthy examinations in public or public inquir- ies, and unnecessary delay. The new prospectus emphasises the need for garden communities to The Twin Foxes, since demolished, was the first pub in Stevenage (Photo: Historic England Archive) be planned holistically. It is hoped that this will further encourage local authorities to engage with heritage from the outset, to maximise the benefits this can bring in creating vibrant, characterful places, with local heritage helping to form part of their identity. One issue to consider in the development of new garden communities is the inadvertent coa- lescence of existing historic settlements. Green buffer zones and green-belt land are often cited as a means of mitigation to help preserve the setting of existing historic settlements. A good understanding of the wider historic environment and historic landscapes can help inform how these green areas will work to ensure that they will be successful in retaining a sense of land- scape character or conserving setting, as well as providing usable land for rural uses. Local authorities are enthusiastically embrac- ing the idea of new garden communities and the MHCLG sets out a good foundation for their planning. Many local authorities have already set out their intentions to create new garden towns and these are currently making their way through the local plan process. Good town planning begins with inception, and time and care should be taken to understand past mistakes so that they are not repeated. Equally, past successes should be understood so that new garden communities can remain successful places that bring long-term benefits and thrive with character at their heart. Katie Parsons is a historic environment planning advisor with Historic England.