Green Balance works for the conservation and enhancement of our built heritage. Our work ranges from research into the best approaches to heritage conservation through to hands-on efforts to save individual historic buildings.
Protection of listed buildings from inappropriate change is well-established, but how should we look after whole historic towns and cities and their settings? In 2014 Green Balance completed a major project for English Heritage on The Sustainable Growth of Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns to examine the tensions between heritage and proposed development in some of our most precious places (with David Burton-Pye). This included a review of the effectiveness of local plan policies, and it highlighted good practice mechanisms used in case study cities to tackle the stresses on heritage:
- view cones with unimpeded sightlines into Oxford from surrounding viewpoints;
- design responses to the historic environment to allow urban intensification in Chester;
- building height limits and avoiding development in the setting of Salisbury;
- an urban extension in Winchester;
- urban containment by the Green Belt in Durham;
- respecting the historic character of the urban layout in Lichfield;
- World Heritage Site status in Bath;
- urban intensification outside the historic core in Cambridge; and
- new settlements beyond the city, also in Cambridge.
Reviews of more difficult challenges to protect the heritage in Warwick and Canterbury will follow.
Key lessons from the report were presented to the Historic Towns Forum in November 2014 at its Annual Conference in Chester on Urban expansion and growth in historic towns. A presentation on Responding to development pressures in Cathedral Cities, summarising the report, was given at a meeting in Parliament of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies in March 2016. This was arranged by the newly-formed Historic Cathedral Cities Alliance of civic societies. An article on Conservation Officers in historic towns, based on the report, was published in 'Context', the magazine of the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation in May 2016.
Green Balance has researched the ownership of public sector heritage properties and the scale and effect of their disposal. An initial report for the National Trust examined the scale of the burden which might be placed on the voluntary sector arising from such disposals.
The report was warmly welcomed in a Country Life editorial ‘Selling off or selling out?” on December 14, 2006: “…the National Trust is to be commended for commissioning a hard-hitting report from Green Balance on The Disposal of Heritage Assets by Public Bodies….”.
English Heritage then published our substantial review (with Grover Lewis Associates Ltd) of Local Authority Heritage Assets: current issues and opportunities (2012), based on interviews with numerous heritage conservation officers, national heritage bodies and elected portfolio holders responsible for heritage, plus extensive questionnaires to local authority asset managers, to heritage professionals and to actual and prospective new owners. A paper summarising the findings relevant to Building Preservation Trusts was presented to the Annual Conference of the UK Association of Preservation Trusts in October 2012.
We have investigated The Potential of Conservation Covenants for the National Trust (2008), evaluating alternatives to outright land acquisition as a means of achieving conservation. This included international comparisons.
Green Balance has recently provided English Heritage with a valuable database Listed Building Consents: A Review of Data (2015), which gives a statistically robust insight into LBC applications decided in 2011-14. Extensive information is provided on 936 sampled applications, which are evenly distributed between regions, between urban and rural authorities, between local authorities charging and not charging for pre-application advice, and in the periods either side of a change in the law which reinstated V.A.T. on approved works to listed buildings in October 2012.
We have assisted the National Trust’s responses to new railway infrastructure proposals. In 1994 we advised on the impact of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (‘High Speed 1’) on Trust properties through Kent and East London. Then in 2010 we highlighted in detail the damaging effect which High Speed 2 would have notably on the Trust-controlled Hartwell House near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire – a Grade 1 listed Jacobean house with a fine landscaped park in the picturesque style.
We have worked with local groups to save various historic buildings, notably a large Victorian house and grounds in Tonbridge (See case study).
Properties in a listed Georgian crescent in Greenwich (Gloucester Circus) were threatened with unsympathetic extension and conversion to flats by Greenwich London Borough Council (Property Section). Working with local residents, Green Balance secured both an overturning by Councillors of the Planning Officers’ recommendation of approval, and subsequently the appropriate change of the existing properties to two town houses.
Green Balance submitted a response to the DCMS consultation in July 2012 on ‘Improving Listed Building Consent’ (LBC). The proposals aimed to reduce the alleged burden on developers from LBC procedures by reducing the circumstances in which consent is required and reducing the level of information applicants must submit. The aspiration was that specialist conservation staff could focus on higher risk issues (though we advised that the loss of staff was more likely). The Government subsequently decided not to pursue two of its four options which we, like English Heritage and many others, had opposed (for ‘prior notification’ of development instead of an application, and for accredited agents to evaluate proposals instead of local authority conservation officers). We supported the Government’s intention to introduce a ‘Certificate of Lawful Works’ to listed buildings without the need for a full application for LBC, but suggested provisos. The Government has now legislated in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 both for this and for its proposed national and local class consents. Class consents will allow specified changes to defined types of listed buildings always to be acceptable without the need for specific listed building consent. We described class consents as ‘particularly foolhardy’ and likely to be overwhelmed by practical and heritage problems. An enormous bureaucratic endeavour will be required before a single LBC application is avoided. We aim to monitor experience with this initiative.
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Green Balance saved North Frith House More »