Civic Update

10 November 2017

Our new address is:
Civic Voice, The Coffin Works, 13-15 Fleet Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B3 1JP.
Tel.: 0121 792 8177
Please update your records.

This week Civic Voice Vice-president, Laura Sandys asked for your support to Civic Voice’s Big Conservation Conversation. We are delighted that groups including Harrogate Civic Society (Yorkshire), Isleworth Civic Society (London), Newcastle under Lyme Civic Society (West Midlands) and Parish Councils including Cononley Parish Council have all been in touch pledging support. The fact we are having groups from across the country getting in touch shows that the issues affecting conservation areas are national issues requiring a national solution.

Will you and your group add support to our campaign to make the case for conservation areas. We need your support to help us make the national case for the importance of conservation areas. Donate to our campaign here either as an individual or as a group.

In other news this week, we met with the Place Alliance to talk through their recent report and to consider how both organisations can come together to make the case for investment into the historic and built environment. We also met up with Hackney Council and are looking for 10 civic societies to pilot a new toolkit with us about assessing a conservation area. Let us know if you are interested via

We were pleased to speak at an event in The Wirral to celebrate 50 years of Conservation Areas. Hamilton Square Conservation Area is on the Heritage at Risk register so it was pleasing to hear Cllr Phil Davies, Leader of Wirral Council state that a partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce will lead to the development of a management plan for Hamilton Square that will see it become a catalyst for the economic regeneration of the area. This is positive news for our national campaign and again shows a local authority across the country trying to find an innovative solution to putting conservation areas at the heart of local regeneration.

Please do respond to our survey here. The results will be shared at a meeting of the APPG for Civic Societies that Civic Voice members and supporters of the Big Conservation Conversation will be invited to.


Place Alliance report says "34% of conservation officers providing design advice"

Photograph: Sarah James with Place Alliance staff

It was interesting to meet with Place Alliance this week, to discuss their latest report which summarises the findings of a nationwide survey of urban design skills within local planning authorities and how they have changed over the last five years. The report highlights a key issue of an increasingly heavy reliance on conservation staff to double up as urban design officers, and a significant reliance on external consultants (with all the cost implications that incurs).

The figures, however, hide a significant move to role sharing, with urban design now typically only a fractional responsibility within a larger role, e.g. conservation and design, and no longer conducted by an officer or team with specialist design expertise.

Sarah James, Civic Voice Membership Development Officer said: "It was a pleasure to meet the team at the Place Alliance. The report, Design Skills in English Local Authorities, is an excellent piece of work and one that chimes with Civic Voice's campaign. The report makes it clear to me that where local authorities don't have dedicated urban design staff, the impact is being felt on conservation officers who are increasingly being required to fill in the gaps in design expertise. This raises the troubling scenario that not only are urban design matters being neglected, but so too are heritage concerns. So whilst Civic Voice is campaigning for against the loss of Conservation Officers, it may be that increased resource into the built environment sector overall is required."

Design Skills in English Local Authorities can be read here.

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Conservation Areas Wirral leading the way for long term enhancement of conservation areas

Photograph: Cake with Model of a monument and garden in icing

Photograph: Speaker at Wirral forum Photograph: Ian Harvey addressing Wirral forum

Conservation Areas Wirral is a forum of all Wirral’s 26 Conservation Areas. Established in 2014 it is a voluntary-run organisation with members drawn from all of Wirral’s active Conservation Areas. It works with Wirral residents, Wirral Council and Historic England to promote and protect the distinct character of Wirral’s Conservation Areas and to ensure they can be accessed and enjoyed by all, both now and in the future.

Ian Harvey, Executive Director, Civic Voice, this week attended the 40th anniversary of Hamilton Square, Wirral a conservation area that is on the Heritage at Risk Register. Ian explained that designating a conservation area should not be seen as an end in itself: we live in a changing world and for the historic environment to survive and continue to be cherished it needs to be positively managed. He was delighted to hear that Civic Voice's idea of Conservation Area Improvement Districts is not as far fetched as some people may think!

The local Chamber of Commerce, Conservation Areas Wirral and Wirral Council are joining forces to fund costs and work involved in developing a management plan for Hamilton Square. Both the Chamber and Wirral Council realise the vast potential that Hamilton Square has in attracting tourists to the area and how it could become a key part of the economic regeneration of the area. Having the Chamber of Commerce support this plan is a great example of private sector playing a role in the economic regeneration of our towns.

Ian shared the ideas being developed in Hackney around a methodology to assess the "significance of a conservation area", with several groups expressing interest in learning more about the tool.

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What is an outstanding conservation area? Is Stamford the best conservation area?

Photograph: Stamford main street

Last week we asked regular readers of civic update if they had been aware of any outstanding conservation areas. It turns out, the Outstanding Conservation Area term was introduced as a tool to encourage local authorities to nominate more conservation areas in the 1970s. We have been approached by contacts in Castlefield (Manchester) and Wooton Under Edge (Somerset) who confirm with us that they had both been designated “outstanding conservation areas”.

But as Harrogate Civic Society say, how do we assess the best?

Maybe we can't, but we can learn from Hackney Council who have developed a methodology to appraise and understand the significance of their conservation areas. Together with Butler Hegarty Architects, a consultant used by Hackney Council, they have used a methodology recently to review Hackney’s existing and potential Conservation Areas. The aims of the Hackney Conservation Area Review was to identify those areas of the Borough which should still be Conservation Areas and to guide the future management of Conservation Areas in a way which preserves and enhances their significance. In order to guide the direction of the Study, engagement took place with local community groups. Meetings were held with representatives from the Heritage Champion, the Conservation Areas Advisory Committees, the Hackney Society, the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust, and other amenity groups.

You can learn more about what Hackney are doing here.

How can we raise the standard of conservation areas? Can we ever find the "best conservation area". We would love to hear your thoughts. Send them into Civic Voice

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In their 50th anniversary year, more Conservation Areas added to the Heritage at Risk than other heritage assets.

Of particular concern for the civic movement and Historic England is the high number of Conservation Areas on the Register in the 50th anniversary year. 47 Conservation Areas were added this year, making a total 512 at risk. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Historic England found strong public support for conservation areas, but only a small majority of those surveyed who live in a conservation area (56%) were aware that they actually live in one. Historic England would like to see local authorities raising awareness of Conservation Areas, especially among homeowners and commercial property owners. Common problems facing Conservation Areas are unsympathetic doors, windows and new extensions, poorly maintained streets and neglected green space. Historic England continues to work with councils and other partners to address these issues.

The 2017 Heritage at Risk survey published by Historic England shows the downward trend in the deteriorating quality of England's conservation areas has continued. Whilst we know that the historic environment is important to economic regeneration. the standard is continuing to decline. With funding cuts. we need to be thinking about new ways to enhance and help conservation areas look to the future.

Ian Harvey said: "Conservation areas are our everyday heritage and they should be treated as national treasures. We know the historic environment is good for us but an increasing number of conservation areas being added to the heritage at risk register is a significant warning. We can't ignore this."

Laura Sandys, Civic Voice Vice-president said: "I find the news about these conservation areas really incredibly sad as we celebrate the Big Conservation Conversation and 50 years of the Civic Amenities Act 1967. I look forward to working with Civic Voice and civic societies across England to continue to make the case for conservation areas."

Search the Heritage at Risk Register for 2017 here.

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Leeds Civic Trust volunteers survey 3,300 Leeds 'Buildings at Risk'

Picture: Leeds Civic Trust logo

Jenna Strover, Chairwoman, Leeds Civic Trust Heritage at Risk Group, provides an update on the Leeds Civic Trust Heritage At Risk project that has been working on over the past 4 years.

"It all started back in 2013 as an English Heritage pilot project where they asked groups to trial ways of surveying Grade 2 listed buildings; the purpose being to record and log their condition. The Trust’s Heritage At Risk group were already recording the buildings on our ‘at risk list’ and Kate Newell, from the Council’s Conservation Team, approached me to see if we’d be interested in working with them on the English Heritage pilot."

Read more here.

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What is the Oxford Character Assessment Toolkit?

Photograph: Group assessing part of Wakefield

Communities approach Civic Voice on a weekly basis asking for our advice about toolkits that they can utilise in their local area to help them shape local developments. One that we often recommend is the Oxford Character Assessment Toolkit which was prepared for individuals to help them assess the character of areas within the city of Oxford, but could be equally used in other areas across the country.

In 2008 English Heritage (now historic England) part funded a conservation officer post for Oxford City Council to develop a process and set of tools to help community groups and others develop awareness of how each element of local character contributed different to a sense of place through a character assessment. The toolkit has since been taken up or promoted by several authorities in the south east and elsewhere in the country.

Whether you are planning a new development, or are a community group who want to be involved in planning the future of your area, you can use the toolkit to record the features that give your town its sense of place, as well as the issues to be addressed in future.

Download the Oxford Character Assessment Toolkit here.

If you have experience of using a toolkit and would be prepared to share this experience with others, please do let us know at Civic Voice

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Get Involved!

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Photograph: Group of conservationists

Regional War Memorials workshops

Photograph: Group holding 'save our memorials' banner

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Photograph: Trustees

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Civic Voice is calling for volunteers from around England to attend a meeting or workshop with us to discuss how best to find and survey every war memorial.

Workshops will be announced throughout the year in different locations, so keep a look out for a workshop in your area! You can see them here.

If you can't attend a workshop why not get involved through our War Memorials Condition Survey Toolkit. This is an easy step by step guide which trains volunteers how to carry out condition surveys on war memorials. You can see this here!

For more information or to get involved email

Does your civic society want a visit from the chairwoman of Civic Voice or perhaps you would like another trustee or member of the Civic Voice team to come and speak to your society? We have a number of people willing to come and talk to your society about all things civic.

Many of the Civic Voice team have been travelling the country delivering the talk which is titled 'The Future of the Civic Movement.' If you would like one of our trustees or team members to come and speak to your society please email with your request.