When it comes to the subject of heritage in planning, the first thing that comes to people’s minds tends to be the negative roadblocks. The delays in achieving listed building consent, or unexpected archaeological conditions on a building site can be enough to drive you mad and make you regret a scheme altogether! One of my jobs as a Heritage Consultant is to help avoid this situation in the first place but helping to find opportunities within your scheme for positive heritage impacts which, if required, can help offset those which are less than favourable in the overall planning balance that takes place when final decisions are made.
At each and every site I visit, I am always on the lookout for unexplored opportunities to build up your kudos with the local planning authority so that not only is your application viewed in the best light, but you end up with a scheme that makes the most of your historic building. So, what do I mean by positive heritage impact? Well, here are a few examples to get you thinking. Perhaps you have a few of these in your home or building just waiting to make their way into the next set of proposed plans and elevations.
Reinstating blocked openings
As time goes on, the needs of a family home can change and the physical fabric of the building changes with it. This is most often the case with openings, such as doors and windows. Oftentimes, internal doors between rooms have been blocked to create privacy or two separate spaces. These are sometimes left as obvious recesses or converted into in-built shelves but, if it works with your plans for the property, reinstating these openings can result in a positive heritage impact. On the flip side, blocking latterly inserted openings can have the same effect, provided you’re happy to alter access into the individual spaces. Externally, reinstating blocked windows will not only allow more natural light in, but again have the added benefit of reinstating an original or historic feature to the building, which can help in the overall heritage balance of your scheme.
Reinstating blocked fireplaces
As central heating became more prevalent in dwellings, the need for fireplaces went down and unfortunately, these are often blocked in or removed altogether. Fortunately, it’s usually possible to spot these thanks to surviving chimneys, vents, bumps in the plasterwork, or breaks in the skirting boards and reinstating a blocked fireplace (even just decoratively) is a great way to score some positive heritage impacts resulting in an overall conservation gain. Of course, if you’re lucky, the original fabric might survive behind the wall but if not, it’s important to try and match a surround which is appropriate and in keeping with the character and age of the property.
Reinstating original or historic layout
A site visit can often sound like a Victorian seance. That’s to say, don’t be surprised if you hear me knocking on walls half the time but rather than try to raise any lingering spirits, I’m trying to see which walls are original and which might be later insertions. In some cases, removing a modern stud partition to reinstate the original proportions of a space can go a long way to having positive impacts to the significance of a building. The best way to demonstrate this benefit is to create a detailed phased plan showing how the building has developed over time, using a combination of historic mapping, any surviving physical evidence (such as joins or construction breaks), and yes - lots and lots of knocking!
Removing unattractive modern interventions
In the same vein as reinstating historic or original features can win you heritage points with the council, you should also consider - if your budget allows - undoing some of the poor choices your predecessors may have made while the building was under their care. From flat-roofed 1970s extensions to timber-clad dormers, (and let’s not even start on gas fireplaces…) a well-designed scheme which removes and replaces these incongruous elements of a historic building with a more sympathetic design using traditional materials in keeping with the character and appearance of the rest of the fabric will inevitably result in a positive impact to its overall significance. However, this isn’t a carte blanche to replace a single-storey extension with something twice its size just because it’s made of stone and not timber. The replacement still has to be appropriate in terms of scale and massing, respecting the form of the original building.
Creating a successful argument balancing the positive and negative impacts of any proposed development requires an understanding of the existing significance of the building, the constraints and opportunities inherent to the project, and a heavy dose of creativity. If you’re not sure where to start and would like some advice on how to gain positive heritage impacts on your next project, then having a heritage consultant on your design team is invaluable and can tip the balance in favour of previously unsupportable planning applications. For expert advice on your proposed development, contact Blue Willow Heritage to see how we can help.