The online resource for the historic environment

4.08 Conservation strategy

To assist your understanding of this Unit see BS 7913: 2013:
Section 4: "Heritage values and significance"
Section 5: "Using significance as a framework for managing the historic environment"
Section 6: "Significance as part of operational care and other interventions"
Section 7:"Maintenance"

“Conservation is a balancing act, a negotiated compromise which should seek to obtain the best management available in the circumstance of each case.”
A Future for Our Past

Each case will be different, so your response in individual cases will be bespoke to the asset, its circumstance and the need for it to develop, adapt and change to suit contemporary requirements. It would be wrong to assume that conservation is only about ossification and cocooning an asset in order to protect it. It is, however, about natural development and progression whilst ensuring that its importance, historic narrative value and significance are protected for future generations.

Consider a twentieth century university campus originally conceived and developed in the 1960s by a famous architect. The university has, subsequently developed and expanded both its curriculum/academic focus as well as its student population. There is now a need to both expand the original master plan and upgrade the outdated buildings and their accommodation. How would you approach a methodology for planning the need for expansion/development of the original structures some of which have high category listed status.

You may wish to look at how the University of East Anglia has approached the need for a dynamic and flexible approach to conservation management strategy. See the web site of the UEA. You may also wish to visit GOV.UK-Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to look at the DCMS proposals for statutory management agreements in respect of complex sites, see also English Heritage for similar information/explanation about statutory management agreements.

How might conservation management plans differ in respect of an established historic site, such as Holkham Hall in Norfolk, from that of the developing UEA campus example referred to above.

A statement of significance should be prepared early when structuring your response to asset management. Such documents are a brief analysis and definition of the asset’s historical, aesthetic and community or social importance. The statement will assist in concentrating the minds of all involved in any works of intervention, and assist in assessing the impact of proposals, and may be a precursor to more detailed assessment and analysis in the form of conservation management plans or strategy documents. See also Unit 1.

The first act in determining policy for intervention must be, in all cases, to establish significance – what is it and why is it important and why is it valued? The second step should be to establish what factors are threatening the long-term security of the SME. How these threats are to be addressed and how significance is to be protected and assured. Threats might have their source in the following:

  • Environmental and contextual issues
  • Processes of decay and deterioration
  • Inappropriate use or change
  • Ignorance of importance, and lack of understanding
  • Economic pressures including pressures for inappropriate change
  • Apathy

amongst others.

The purpose of planning and structuring a response to perceived threats is to ensure that the threat, once correctly identified, may be appropriately dealt with bearing in mind: the importance of the asset, the protection of its significance and its long term survival for the benefit of future generations.

Identify as many other types of threat that you can that you consider would be applicable when determining the pattern or process of protection response for the heritage.

Threats may pose varying degrees of effect on the heritage; these might be identified as:

  • Acute
  • Chronic
  • Conceptual
  • English Heritage (1996) A Future for Our Past

Such threats and prioritisation of response are identified in BS 7913: 2013 "Appendix B.5 Inspection reports " as:

  • Immediate
  • Urgent
  • Necessary
  • Desirable

The purpose of structuring a conservation approach or strategy is first to identify significance followed by investigation of threats and then to propose an appropriate response with an understanding of the order of priorities identified by BS 7913: 2013

The establishment, through thorough research, of cultural and historical significance informs and underpins intervention strategy. It facilitates a structured approach to intervention work and assists in ensuring that conjecture does not influence the process.

As time passes into the contemporary era, important, recently constructed buildings are presented with user requirements/ to change and develop. Very typically, modernist movement, residential buildings constructed say within the last 50 years and providing recognised examples of a designer’s work or providing examples of particular styles or social change in housing concept, have become subject to the need to alter/modernise accommodation. Such changes to listed modernist buildings may be difficult to rationalise and implement without serious loss of authenticity. For example, the Barbican, developed in the 1960/70s provides a superb example of urban medium and high rise living within the City of London. Created following bomb damage in Cripplegate during W.W.II the development provides shops, sports centres and other social facilities and was, perhaps, the most talked about development of its time. It was listed Grade II in 2001. It has been recognised that there is a need to upgrade certain aspects of the accommodation such as kitchens and bathrooms. It is also recognised that there is a need to maintain record and examples of original form and design. The solution determined has been to allow some changes to occur but also to maintain some dwellings in original form by establishing permanent protection of them whilst allowing others to be modernised.

The Biker wall in Newcastle is a listed example of social housing and has also been subject to the need to establish protection of exemplar accommodation. Arno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in North Kensington and Denys Lasdun’s Keeling Tower in Bethnal Green London are other examples where modernisation has resulted in retention rather than demolition by allowing refurbishment to occur in a controlled manner.

“Untangling the mosaic of values makes it much easier to think about what we are trying to achieve when we conserve a site.”
Clark, K (2000) Conservation Plans-Benefit or burden?

See also Conservation Plans in Action. English Heritage.

It will have been established at the investigative stage of the work what is of vital value to the protection of significance, what (as a result of detailed analysis and in the absence of subjective response) is less important and what deterioration or decay processes are involved and how these need to be addressed in order to protect significance.

See: Investigative work on historic buildings. English Heritage and Development in the Historic Environment and Management Guidelines for Listed Buildings. English Heritage

Part of the process of pre-intervention planning will involve assessment of those elements of the historic asset that are vulnerable – either as a result of decay, patterns of use or structural deficiencies, or as a result of other factors of influence on the structure’s deteriology that are adversely affecting its longevity.

You should show, within your provision of evidence that you have actively considered and responded to such influences as part of your conservation strategy.

Buxton Old Hall Hotel, showing stone decay to portico. Possibly due to use of de-icing salts on the adjacent road.

Some causes of defects or decay may be outside the asset itself and these might include such causes as:

  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Subsidence and vibration
  • Vandalism and theft
  • Fire damage
  • Contextual changes

It may be necessary during the assessment process to call in experts or specialists in the use of materials, patterns or processes of decay etc. It may also be necessary to call upon the services of professionals who have expert knowledge or understanding of the asset form or, who are experts in the history of the asset, its context or development. It is one of the fundamental attributes of a good conservation professional to have a clear knowledge of his or her own limitations in being able to properly assess and formulate a conservation strategy. None of us can be sufficiently expert at all things and we must recognise when more focused, esoteric or even arcane knowledge can provide useful insight into how to respond in order to protect significance.
See BS 7913:2013 sections 6, 7 and 8

Part of the process of good husbandry when managing an historical asset is an ability to anticipate future patterns of decay and deterioration. Checks to establish condition and state should become a regular part of planning for repair and maintenance. This might follow the recommendation for five yearly reviews of condition – the ‘Quinquennial review’.

“The… inspection report on a heritage asset should be used to generate a long-term conservation strategy, involving cyclical programming of routine maintenance, coupled with a forward programme of prioritised and costed repair work.”
Managing Local Authority Heritage Assets. 2003.

Such reviews should address:

  • existing condition
  • identification of defects
  • prognosis of affect of defect
  • recommendations for response

These regular reviews should also look at how the building is coping with the effects of wear and deterioration and should make recommendations about prioritisation of response. Such recommendation should identify the following order of priorities:

    Priority 1: Immediate
    Priority 2: Urgent
    Priority 3: Necessary
    Priority 4: Desirable

By reference to BS 7913: 2013 Annex B, particularly B.5, define the criteria for prioritisation of your response.

Conservation strategy should also encompass planning for disaster response. This should include being prepared for both man made and natural disasters etc.

Disaster planning should address perceived risks beyond the site boundaries and outside the scope of conservation principles. The ability to anticipate disasters and their affects, together with best response, will greatly assist in protection of the heritage against such risks and are a necessary part of conservation management strategy.

Insurance cover appropriate to risk, and with due consideration given to the sensitive nature of the heritage, must form part of the process of disaster planning. Some insurance cover conditions may be in conflict with the principles and ethics of conservation and you should know where to seek advice on the implications of insurance cover conditions. For example the insurance cover for the works undertaken at Uppark, following the disastrous fire in 1994, imposed a condition that only restoration works were covered by the insurance. To gain an understanding of how this impacts on the heritage see BS 7913 for definitions of restoration. In order to make use of insurance moneys the works at Uppark had to concentrate on restoration – such imposition will have an effect on strategy when undertaking intervention work following disasters. Clarification of insurance cover and imposed conditions must be clearly understood if appropriate cover is to obtained and maintained.

You should consider measures that will have least affect on or involve minimum damage to significance when undertaking strategy planning for disaster preparedness.

The introduction of concrete crash barriers in the Parliament Square frontage to The Palace of Westminster, a necessary part of anti-terrorism measures had, nonetheless an adverse affect on the appearance of the building and its setting. The fact that the measures were reversible (they were not fixed and allowed removal without damage) indicates that the conservation tenet of reversibility was actively considered in the response to the perceived threat. The barriers have now been removed and the visual context of the palace restored by the introduction of less obtrusive barrier with black coverings but still removable once threat is no longer an issue.

See also:
ICOMOS. (1998). Risk Preparedness: A Management Manual for World Cultural Heritage.

Consider how you might protect an asset for which you are responsible, against the threat of:
  • fire,
  • flooding,
  • terrorist attack.

Sometimes threats can present as conflicts of interest between varying aspects of conservation. Consider a hypothetical situation: a previously unidentified building by C. F. A. Voysey, in an isolated location within an SSSI, is badly decaying and identified as a building at risk but with funds available for regeneration and new use The structure provides a habitat for a colony of Barbastelle bats (a very rare species of bat whose habitat is also given protected status) and is also use by an endangered colony of little owls (protected species). The building is considered appropriate for conversion (with minimum loss of significance and authenticity) to a visitors’ centre for the SSSI.

The approach to intervention strategy must identify the following fundamental dilemmas:

  • The need to revitalise the asset to a good, sound and compatible use through regeneration
  • The need to protect two rare and endangered species whose continued existence and habitat might be seriously compromised by regeneration
  • The asset is in an area of special scientific interest and the proposed new use, compatible with the existing structure, will potentially, generate an increase in traffic due to re-vitalisation of interest
  • in the asset and how it has contributed to understanding of local history and development.

As a conservation practitioner how would you go about responding to any programme of regeneration for the asset whilst recognising the needs of the endangered species and the SSSI.

You might wish to consider, in your response, that the patterns of use of the asset by the wildlife might be found, following research, to adopt a seasonal use of it. The issue is complicated by the fact that the identified grant aid for rehabilitation is only available on an immediate basis and the building at risk is in a chronic state of disrepair demonstrating an immediate priority level of need. The bats and owl colony has just started its annual breeding cycle and this will extend to beyond the period during which the identified grant is available.

In response to the question you might consider the following:

  • identification of alternative funding sources
  • re-evaluation of intervention programme including temporary protection methods
  • identification of sources of information about the patterns of wildlife use of the building – local wildlife trusts etc (See also Natural England (2004) Bat Migration Guidelines Natural England, London)

It may be that with research an alternative funding source might be available. Close liaison with wildlife groups and /or ecology consultants, might identify a window of opportunity in the breeding/use cycle that will allow works to be undertaken on a phased basis centred on an immediate, urgent, necessary and desirable response spread over several years without threat to the wildlife. Measures to incorporate the wildlife use might be identified through research, including providing alternative habitats inside and outside the asset that will maintain the site for use by wildlife.

The site within the SSSI and the new use of it might pose less of a threat if vehicular traffic generated by the regeneration can be sited on say the boundary of the SSSI with conducted walks to the asset taking in the special nature of the SSSI en-route.

The above might seem an extreme scenario but it is very typical of the dilemmas that you will face as a conservation practitioner. It is your ability to think laterally and be able to respond successfully to such dilemma that produces good practitioner understanding gained through knowledge of the discipline and by experience of such conflicts of interest.