Embracing heritage projects

By Sandy Fishpool & Kate Girling | 02.11.23

It is estimated there are half a million listed buildings on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and of these, over 2300 are at risk.

The exact number of buildings on the NHLE is not known because one single entry may include several individual units, such as a row of terraced houses. The buildings on the Heritage at Risk register are often listed because they have been left vacant and subject to neglect and vandalism.

Celebrating listed buildings

Listing is not a preservation order, preventing change. It does not freeze a building in time. It simply means that listed building consent must be applied for to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest.

"The challenges that listed buildings pose are taken into consideration with relaxations to and exemptions from some building regulations."

Listed buildings are to be enjoyed and used, like any other building. They can be altered, extended, and sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance.

The local authority uses listed building consent to make decisions that balance a site's historic significance against other issues, such as its function, condition, or viability. The challenges that listed buildings pose are taken into consideration with relaxations to and exemptions from some building regulations.

When working with a listed building, it is possible to be ambitious providing the changes proposed do not detrimentally affect the building’s historic significance. Vacant heritage buildings often provide exciting opportunities and prospects for high quality developments that are desirable, unique, and sustainable.

Benefits of constructive conversations

In our experience, a positive collaborative attitude between client and local authority helps to achieve a positive outcome for both parties. This ‘constructive conservation’ focuses on recognising and reinforcing the historic significance of a place while accommodating the changes necessary to ensure its continued use.

We recently used this approach in a Grade II listed mansion in Nazeing, Essex. It has received a recommendation for approval from the Local Planning Authority and will provide eight sensitively designed apartments and one detached dwelling. The mansion and its gardens will be prevented from falling into further decay while retaining one of the most important local landmarks for the future.

A sustainable approach

"The greenest building is one that is already built. Carl Elefante (2007)"

The development of vacant heritage buildings not only helps to meet housing need and retain important national heritage but, by using our existing building stock, also makes the best use of the embodied energy.

Historic buildings were ‘built to last’ and by introducing fabric improvements, we can achieve comfortable and sustainable buildings that will stand the test of time.

Understanding heritage

We have found that a deep understanding of a heritage asset allows for a forensic approach to fabric improvements that can minimise the level of intervention and provide the improvements needed to upgrade the fabric.

This forensic method was employed at a recent heritage project in Great Malvern, Worcestershire. Thermal, acoustic and fire upgrades resulted in a much-improved level of thermal efficiency whilst retaining the significance of the Grade II listed building. The building, which is in a conservation area, on the edge of the Malvern Hills AONB, was transformed from a crumbling wreck to a fully restored apartment building and ultimately, given a new lease of life.

Talk to us

To discuss design, planning and landscape services for a heritage project or a listed building in more detail please contact us at info@ruralsolutions.co.uk we would be happy to advise you.

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