Civic Update

22 September 2017

Our new address is:
Civic Voice, The Coffin Works, 13-15 Fleet Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B3 1JP.
Tel.: 0121 792 8177
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Photograph: Group holding banner

There are more than 10 thousand conservation areas in the UK and Stamford was the first but even though we are celebrating 50 years of conservation areas, we ask, are we witnessing death by a thousand cuts for conservation areas? We ask this because again this week we have seen the latest annual report published showing a continued decrease for 11 years running. If we treasure our historic environment, surely we should be prioritising and funding it?

We discussed the impact of a loss of conservation officers at our civic forum where we had a lengthy discussion about the impact on how civic societies are being called upon to undertake appraisals and become the "civic watchdog" on conservation areas. We heard from groups including Reading Civic Society, Birmingham Civic Society and Southgate Civic Trust about how they are making the case for the historic environment. The group agreed that this is such a hot issue that our next "Civic Forum" meeting in December will consider this issue with a full day discussion. We will be inviting Historic England to present the work they published (available here) which provided evidence that the historic environment can add value to your home.

Should it be left to civic societies and other community groups to fight and make the case for the nation's historic environment? We think we have a role to play so it was great to spend a day with Si Cunningham, Chair of Bradford Civic Society to see how he is influencing the agenda locally. Even better, we were delighted to see that Great Yarmouth Civic Society had a successful launch.


"When we work together, we strengthen the civic movement"

Photograph: Some of the representatives from Civic Voice's national civic forum

Some of the representatives from Civic Voice's national civic forum

When we work together, we strengthen the civic movement. We can make a difference. That was the defiant message from the latest gathering of our national civic forum which brings representatives together from a number of areas from across England. These individuals are another way to ensure that we are a "Grassroots led Civic Voice".

Key points of discussion during the day highlighted that lessons can be learned from those civic societies that have been successful in recruiting new members and that research should be published asking civic societies to provide examples of how the loss of conservation officers is impacting on their local area.

The group has plans to help create a regional association in the East of England and were pleased that we had attendees from Hunstanton and Norwich attending who were keen to learn from other groups.

Helen Kidman, Chair of the Civic Forum said:

"Civic Voice wants to work with civic societies all over England and to support them to come together to focus on the key issues facing the built and historic environment. By working with the APPG for Civic Societies, we can make change happen but only if civic societies tell us how they are being impacted with the cuts to conservation departments. As a group we are determined to connect the civic movement together through publishing research, meeting more regularly and looking at ways that we can do more with less. We will do this by being part of the national civic movement team and talking to civic societies, meeting with them and hearing what is happening up and down across the country. We will help build the civic movement from the bottom up to ensure we can make a collective difference. We will cut through the 100s of issues being discussed by civic societies and say "These are the issues; these are the things as a movement we must focus on. We look forward to meeting groups at the Civic Voice AGM."

Your representative for the national Civic Forum is Helen Kidman and she can be contacted via

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Conservation: Death by a thousand cuts?The loss of conservation officers continues....

Volunteer posting leaflets

Three volunteers Volunteer group posting leaflets

Not conservation officers, but civic volunteers across the country meeting MPs and publishing leaflets explaining the benefits and value of conservation areas. Is this a replacement for the real thing?

Research has been published by Historic England showing that the number of historic environment advice specialists in local authorities has continued to fall over the previous 12 months, whilst the workload in terms of number of planning application decisions and Listed Building Consent decisions has grown. The number of full-time equivalent historic environment specialists providing advice to local authorities in England has fallen by 36% since 2006.

Against a backdrop of a continued decrease in the number of specialist advisers, the number of planning application decisions and Listed Building Consent decisions (both indicators of workload) has increased by 3.5% and 3.6% respectively. See more here.

Laura Sandys, Civic Voice Vice-president said: "How are councils coping with their duties to manage the historic environment? Civic Voice believes the activities of conservation officers are most effective when they are embedded in the local planning authority, rather than being seen as an add-on. A 36% decrease is unacceptable.

We want communities to continue to support out Big Conservation Conversation campaign to help us continue to make the case for the importance of the historic environment.

Ian Harvey said: "The more groups who engage with our campaign and organise local activities helps to raise the profile, spread the knowledge and highlight that conservation should be a priority. Together we can make change happen if we come together and say 'My Conservation Area Matters'."

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A day in the life of the new Chair of Bradford Civic Society

Si Cunningham, Bradrofd Chairman

Si Cunningham, Bradrofd Chairman

Ahead of the national civic movement event in Bradford on September 30th we spoke to Si Cunningham (pictured here with Laura Sandys) to find out how he is settling in and to see what a typical day is like in the life of a Civic Society chair.

When Si first took the reins at Bradford Civic Society earlier this year, he told members how he saw greater collaboration with other civic-minded groups in the city being key to the future success of the civic movement.

Bradford is a fast-paced metropolitan patch with lots going on with any different groups are taking ownership of areas that overlap with Bradford Civic Society's own remit – particularly in areas of conservation and regeneration.

Si wanted to share a snapshot of a what a working day looks like for Bradford Civic Society, and offer an insight into just a few of the new partnerships they are forging in West Yorkshire ahead of the civic movement gathering on September 30th.

Read about the a normal day for the Chair of a Civic Society here.

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The Deal Society to speak about experience of undertaking a community led conservation area appraisal

Photograph: Ian Harvey

The Deal Society was asked by Dover District Council to carry out a series of conservation area character appraisals. This is a statutory responsibility which requires local authorities to keep conservation areas under review. The Dover District Council Heritage Strategy encourages local groups and residents to get involved in the process. Robin Green of the Deal Society explains how it works:

“We first carry out detailed surveys based on the original model developed by the City of Oxford. The surveys are to evaluate the historic and current significance of the conservation area and are based on the Buildings, Spaces, Views and Landscapes, Roads and Pavements and Ambience of the Conservation area. The surveys detail the current condition of the conservation area.

"For its first appraisal the Deal Society chose the Nelson Street Conservation area including St. Andrew’s Church and grounds. During 2015 a small group of volunteers looked at this area. Every resident in the area received a short questionnaire to help in the research. The aim of the Appraisal is to understand the significance of the area as a whole, to assess its current condition and character and to identify any vulnerabilities and any opportunities for enhancement. The draft report which resulted from this work was published by Dover District Council for public consultation in October 2016. The adopted Appraisal will be a material consideration in assessing all planning applications, listed building and conservation area consents within the area.

"During 2016 The Society performed a similar appraisal on the South Barracks, Walmer, conservation area and that report is with Dover District Council who will put it out for public consultation.

"A report is drawn up including a Statement of Significance of the Conservation area and any recommendations that should happen e.g. imposition of Article 4(2) Direction, changes of boundaries, creation of local lists of heritage assets. The report is then submitted to the district council heritage team. Following any revisions the district council cabinet authorises a period of public consultation. The document is then further authorised and becomes a Supplementary Planning Document. Further action may happen in terms of e.g. Article 4(2) Direction.

"It is understood as a partnership between the district Planning Authority and the Civic Society and both logos appear on the final Supplementary Planning Document.”

Download the appraisal from the Deal Society website here.

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Membership News

This section of civic update aims to give you a snap shot of what our members are doing locally to promote civic pride in their area. If you are a member of Civic Voice and are proud of what you have done this week or have a query that you wouldlike us to include, send us your story here.

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New civic society hopes to develop a civic pride in Great Yarmouth

On Tuesday evening, in Great Yarmouth, more than 75 people turned out to offer their support to work together to instill civic pride in the town, to change the perception of Yarmouth, its heritage, community, industry and its potential, and make it a better place to live and work.

They queued to pay their £10 to become a member of the new Civic Society of Great Yarmouth.

The Civic Society of Great Yarmouth was formed to spread a sense of civic pride in the town. Its aims are not merely to engender pride in its buildings and architecture but in its environment, its cleanliness, the first impression visitors have when they arrive and its new developments.

The society wants to hear about the town’s good and bad points from the people who live and work there. What does it do well? Where could improvements be made? How can it be made more welcoming place and boost the local economy.

The Civic Society of Great Yarmouth hopes, that by bringing people together to work to improve our town, that potential can be achieved.

Sarah James, Membership Development Officer for Civic Voice said "Demonstrating 50 years after the Civic Amenities Act came into power, that the need for a strong and vibrant civic movement is required as ever. We have been talking to the individuals in this group for a number of months and they intend on joining Civic Voice and hope to have a representative at the Civic Voice Annual Convention in Wakefield".

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Cranleigh Civic Society to continue after members step forward to take group forward

A civic society which has strongly opposed housing developments has been saved after reaching the brink of collapse. Cranleigh Civic Society needed to form a new committee following the departure of several members in order to continue as a group. An emergency meeting was held on Tuesday (September 19th) in The Band Room, Village Way, to form a new committee.

It was first announced that the group would be holding an emergency meeting on the society's website. At the time the society said: "Failure to form a new committee at this meeting will mean, quite simply, the society will cease to exist with immediate effect.”

Interim chairman Richard Bryant also said: "I am optimistic that Cranleigh Civic Society will come out stronger and we are well placed to tackle the challenges that face Cranleigh.”

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Photograph: Group of conservationists

Regional War Memorials workshops

Photograph: Group holding 'save our memorials' banner

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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 chair 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.