The online resource for the historic environment

4.04 Function, use and ownership

To assist your understanding of this Unit see BS 7913: 2013:
Section 5: "Using significance as a framework for managing the historic environment"

“…any successful strategy for a site of significance must satisfy and reconcile the needs of the building owner, the building itself and the building user or visitor. All must be achieved within the framework of current legislation and the restraints of financial resources.”
Stirling, S. (2002)

“The commonest reason for preserving old buildings… is that they are useful resources… even the most unexceptional building will… continue to be repaired for as long as the owner thinks that it is useful or can be made so at reasonable cost…A building usually reaches the end of its (so called) ‘natural life’ as a result of external economic forces and operational obsolescence rather than because it ceased to be capable of repair”
Earl, J.

Throughout its life a SME may have been subject to previous patterns of change and development. It may be that its original purpose has been superseded by changes in use and need. It may have been subject to imposed change resulting from legislative development. Its authenticity may have been put at risk or even damaged by inappropriate previous changes implemented as a result of ignorance of the importance or significance that the asset offers as an historical record. Nonetheless such changes are part of the history and fabric of the building and may have their own value through contributing to the building as a palimpsest of the past.

Identify as many pieces of legislation as you can think of that, in the last 10 years, have been imposed and have had a considerable impact on the historic environment.

You may wish to consider the need, reasoning for and impact of your identified legislation and how these new laws demonstrate a continuum of change to which our historic environment is subject. Society advances and so must the historic environment if it is to survive in today’s rapidly developing world. The process of change is inevitable; it is the ability to manage change without loss of significance that is a fundamental requirement of conservation. .

You may wish to look at Frangos, M. (2004) Creating Accessible Environments College of Estate Management.

But, of course, legislative imposition is not the only source of pressure for change to which the historic environment is subject. Some of the pressures relate to use and ownership requirements. Some proposed changes may be appropriate and can be accommodated with minimal impact on the historic environment. Some will be wholly inappropriate and need to be resisted. Some will stretch the recognised principles and ethics of conservation. Your skills as an advocate for the historic environment will at times be tested. Sometimes your ability to resist change by dint of sound and reasoned argument may be the only obstacle to pressures for inappropriate change. An ability to defend an asset against inappropriate change must be developed through knowledge of the asset and commitment to the principles and philosophy of conservation.
Much of our historic built heritage is in constant and intense daily use and subject to the pressures of such use – school and university buildings might be a good example of this.


Protection of our built heritage with such uses places a great deal of pressure on all who have to deal with the management of assets – their use in a modern context is essential if the heritage is to survive but the protection of significance must be a primary consideration in that process.

The process of change to which an asset is subject will relate not only to the building but also to the functions which are housed within it, the need for introduction, or up-grading, of services, fire protection methods, access for the disabled, etc. These factors relate to modern day uses of the asset for which it was not originally designed and therefore, its historic record or significance may be under threat from such requirements.

The insidious nature of incremental changes that occur with barely any notice are, perhaps, the most potentially damaging to an asset’s authenticity. Moves to ‘improve’ the use and performance of a structure can, over an extended period of time, present a serious threat to its record. The simple process of subtle changes of use over time can also present as barely perceivable threats and can appear to be absorbed by the building without threat or damage but, when added together as composite change the resulting damage can be extremely injurious to authenticity. Similarly the need to respond to regulatory change imposing new performance criteria may result in serious loss of authenticity if not viewed with an understanding of impact over time. The need to subsume the conservation tenet of reversibility within any process of change is probably most apposite in such situations.

“The impact of any proposed change should be justified. The approach taken to that justification should be proportionate to the nature and significance of the historic building and the scale and impact of the proposed works.”
BS 7913: 2013: para 5.2 "Heritage management principles".

From a building of the 1960s, with which you are acquainted, that has recently undergone a refurbishment or up-grading evaluate the impact of these changes on the building's significance.

Careful analysis and assessment of how such, possibly, alien services, requirements or uses might be incorporated are essential if significance is to be protected.

The introduction of modern fire protection measures within a 17th century college building presently used as a library (housing some very valuable ancient manuscripts) is essential if insurance conditions are to be met. How would you go about planning the incorporation of such alien provision within a building of historical, aesthetic and social importance.

The insurance company has insisted that a sprinkler system be installed.

You may wish to consider the impact of the measures not only on the building and its fabric but also the material that it contains. Careful checking of policy wording will be required if inappropriate cover is to be avoided. You will need to ensure that insurance conditions accurately match the need for appropriate conservation based response to reinstatement following an ‘event’ covered by insurance. The need to be able to negotiate appropriately worded cover will be an essential skill for the conservation practitioner advising owners on acceptable insurance cover and terms. See also Conservation Strategy later in this unit.

Regulatory/legislative change is constantly presenting as potential threat to an historic asset. Such legislative changes will be drafted with the focus of the legislator and may not account for conservation constraints. Changes due to legislative change and regulatory imposition are likely to have an incremental pattern of change that is damaging if its increase is not monitored in overall effect. The conservation practitioner must be aware of this incremental pattern of change and be aware that such insidious change can, over time, be particularly damaging to authenticity and significance.

A grade I listed building is attached to a grade II listed building that is under separate ownership. The separating wall is a Party Wall defined under the Party Wall Act 1996. The owner of the grade II property wishes to carry out works to the party structure that will involve raising the party wall to accommodate a new roof profile that is needed to overcome a waterproofing detail problem. As the surveyor/advisor to the grade 1 building owner how would you structure your response to the issue of a Party Wall Notice.

Bear in mind that the Party Wall Act is a permissive not a prohibitive Act. You may wish to consider the status of the Party Wall Act against The Town & Country Planning Acts, Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act. You should assume that the separating structure was originally constructed as part of the preceding grade 1 listed building but that it is used by the adjacent structure by ‘containment’.
You may also want to consider your professional responsibility to undertake work only for which you are qualified. You may wish to advise your owner that a specialist in the field of Party Wall Act procedure should be appointed – you may wish to consider the need to decline your appointment as ‘appointed surveyor’ under the Party Wall Act if your expertise is limited.

“Where skill is lacking, exploitation will reign supreme.”
Earl, J.

The pressures for change resulting from ownership and use requirements are constant conundrums for you the conservation practitioner. The need to recognise your limitations is ever present; there is no kudos in undertaking commissions or accepting instructions for issues where your personal knowledge is limited.

Patterns of use, to which an asset may be subject, may themselves be contributing through wear and tear to how that asset is deteriorating and a clear understanding of methods to be adopted to protect the asset, without loss of significance, must be part of the day to day management of it. Evaluation of these patterns of wear through use must be addressed as part of the conservation process and appropriate measures put in place to counteract such threats.

The need to protect our countryside heritage from escalating patterns of use might be a good example of this increase in wear and tear. Countryside pathways with heavy pedestrian use are a threat to the appearance and character of the areas where visible landscape is a major public attraction. As population increases so do pressures of context on our historic environment. Inner city historical sites are subject to great pressure created by our modern society – pollution, traffic measures, pressures on space and landscape and vandalism are all issues that form part of the need for on-going response to the protection of our historical assets and environments.

The general public, once empowered through understanding, will want to experience the place for their newly acquired values. This increase in interest can pose problems of its own. Pressures of use, increased pedestrian throughput, improved access, compliance with health and safety provisions and access for the disabled, will all impact on the asset. There is a fine balance to be struck between public empowerment and increased visitor numbers at a site or place that will impose pressures that the asset may have difficulty sustaining. It may be necessary to restrict public access – there will always be a balance to be struck between empowerment through information, and potential increased revenue generated by increased attendance and increased wear and tear. The management of such potentially damaging changes will impose pressures that will have to be addressed. You should be able to demonstrate that you have addressed such issues when considering how to assist an asset to become more self-funding. This issue is covered in greater detail in the section on assessment of income sources later in this unit.

You are the manager of a stately home in a holiday area of South West England. What would you do to minimise the damage caused by large visitor numbers on wet summer days (i.e when families who would normally spend the day on the beach are unable to do so).

Useful publications:
ICOMOS. (1993). Tourism at World Heritage Sites.
ICOMOS. (1995). Historic Cities and Sustainable Tourism.
ICOMOS. (1991). Management of World Heritage Sites. 39 seminar papers.
ICOMOS. (1997). Statement of Principles for the Balanced Development of Tourism.