The online resource for the historic environment

4.07 External factors

“A successful public realm comprises a coherent network of streets and spaces, without the need for excessive signs, road markings and physical barriers.

How often we might ask, does this happen?

Traffic…measures should be fitted sensitively into the streets scene as though they were part of the original design of the area. Local highway and planning authorities are encouraged to integrate their activities to minimise the impact of traffic management on the historic environment.”
English Heritage East of England Streets for All

Existence in an ever and more rapidly changing environment is a constant threat to ageing sites, monuments and ensembles (SMEs). One of the most damaging influences on our historic environment is traffic demands and traffic management measures. Pressures on context and situation are not only damaging, as a result of ever increasing traffic, but is also a direct threat to it. Pollution and vibration from increased traffic damages the historic environment.

“Urban planning can be destructive when authorities yield too readily to economic pressures or the demands of motor traffic…”
Article 6 of the Amsterdam Charter. 1975

“Streets are the foreground to our buildings…Yet …streets are increasingly cluttered with a proliferation of traffic signs, bins, bollards, guard rails and street furniture. The results… can effectively undo the efforts taken to maintain and restore individual historic buildings.”
English Heritage The Heritage Counts 2004

See Insall, D (2000) Traffic versus Towns Building Conservation Directory, Tisbury
See also: English Heritage (2006) Streets for All: East of England English Heritage, London

As part of traffic calming measures adjacent to a grade II* listed building which is also a scheduled monument, your local County Highways Department propose to introduce ‘sleeping policeman’ humps in the roadway immediately adjacent to the building: the road is used, by heavy lorries, to gain access to a nearby trunk road and vibration damage to the building is a real concern. How would you go about putting your case to have the speed bumps omitted from the traffic calming measures. What specialist advice would you seek to argue your case against introduction of the traffic measures.


Subsidence, water abstraction, theft and vandalism too are all factors with potential to inflict damage on the historic environment. All are outside the control and influence of conservation but conservation is driven by a need to respond to them.

Identification of threats outside the discipline of conservation will determine a need for response from within the discipline. Appropriateness of response and an ability to structure an optimal reaction to factors of influence outside conservation may dictate a need to understand where appropriate advice might be sourced.

As a conservation practitioner you must be able to assemble a group of advisors whose skills may not necessarily be conservation based. You will need to be able to define a brief for them to provide advice, from which you will be able to structure an appropriate and considered response to outside pressures placed on an asset and for which you may be responsible.

Suggest a suitable ‘team’ of consultants whose advice might be sought to respond to the following threats:
  • New sewer is required to penetrate under the asset for which you have responsibility. Introduction methods to involve horizontal boring within 2.0m of an ancient under-croft structure forming the original site’s development.
  • Introduction of a new bore hole for water abstraction within 100m of your site. Your building is founded on shrinkable clay soil at relatively shallow depths.
  • A new run of electricity supply power cable and pylons to be sited within 50 metres of your building but just outside your site boundaries.
  • A new dual carriageway to be sited within 200m of your site and to be used by heavy vehicles to gain access to a new by-pass system. The construction of the dual carriageway and by-pass will adversely affect the local landscape and wildlife, particularly during the construction phase when a site materials storage area will be built next to a marsh area with sensitive ecology and wildlife and forming part of the landscape that is important to the context of the building.

Threats need to be quantified, analysed and understood before intervention is considered.

Reaction to a misconceived, misconstrued, or misidentified threat may result in intervention that might not be necessary.

Factors affecting a site may be complicated, complex and have several contributory sources. Identification of sources of specialist advice in order to structure an appropriate response will involve careful research and an ability to formulate a suitable brief for consultants.

“Saltaire has become a Mecca for thousands of visitors who spend hours trawling through the pristine streets, trying to imagine life as it was 100 years ago…” What are the threats facing this community.

quotation from www.yorkshire-tour.co.uk