The Importance of The Setting Of Heritage Assets – The Chairman’s personal summary
The Setting of Heritage Assets
Consultation by English Heritage for Guidance on The Setting of Heritage Assets
The following submission to the Consultation is written and presented by
Paul Phillips, Chairman, Kemp Town Society, Brighton
Kemp Town Society.
The Society, established in 1970, promotes the conservation of the Kemp Town Estate, 1 of only 4 nationally listed Grade 1 Estates in England consisting of 105 Regency townhouses and its Conservation Area extending, uniquely, across the beach to the low-tide waterline on Brighton’s seafront. These townhouses, have now been divided into approximately 750 dwellings.
The 48 acre Conservation Area includes the Grade 11 Historic gardens known as the “Enclosures”, accessed by those entitled to privately do so and a separate area known as “Duke’s Mound”, a public area, where the Duke of Devonshire recuperated overlooking the slopes of the Enclosure gardens which, at that time of the 1830’s, extended to the beach and so earned its designation. These lower slopes are now owned by Brighton and Hove City Council.
The Society was formed in response to threats by the then local Council to demolish Kemp Town Regency townscape, named after Revd. Thomas Reed Kemp, M.P, the original land owner and developer. The buildings were to make way for the then current thinking of creating “modern” flats, raising the ire of the local residents. Fortunately the ethos of architectural preservation took root and prevailed.
The Kemp Town Society, over the years, myself included, has engaged with English Heritage, the local Council and residents on the protection of these heritage assets, and more recently, the subject of this consultation paper, “their setting”. I have therefore direct knowledge of interest to those engaged to consolidate submissions of this consultation.
Direct ‘Public Inquiry’ Experience
As Chairman, on behalf of the Society, I have reflected in this document, materials included in the Society’s “Proof of Evidence”, argument and general representations made at a Public Inquiry in the latter part of 2009. These were assembled through my research and represented at the Inquiry by myself in person, ably assisted by the Society’s Hon. Sec., Jill Sewell, a retired London solicitor (non planning), under the Rule 6 provisions on a daily basis.
My predecessors have wrestled over similar issues in previous major planning application battles. So our Society has collective wealth of “hands-on” experience relating to planning issues.
This recent Inquiry involved nationally respected planning barristers, lasting 52 days, with the Secretary of State reaching a decision approximately 3 months ago. The campaigning by the local amenity groups to the local Council, the overturning of the Planning Officer’s recommendation by the LPA, resulting in the Appeal and Inquiry, lasted approximately 2 years. Volunteering over a single issue for this extreme period is daunting enough even for the most resourceful, which it is hoped this consultation will help ease.
The case involved the “regeneration” of an arbitrarily designated “Brownfield site”, a large neighbouring and prominent property, namely, the Brighton Marina on the eastern seafront of the Regency promenade and adjacent to the (now) South Down National Park in response to a nationally generated housing prerogative. The regeneration involved building 1301 flats on lands leased to a national brand of supermarket and burger retailer and other “left over” areas including the seawall of the subject Marina.
It’s proximity and dominance to change the horizons of “views” and “character” of the heritage area was the subject of much public concern.
The issue of the “Setting” of our nationally important heritage assets was and is a key issue in the LPA’s planning refusal and their and our Society’s representation.
The LPA’s reason for refusal.
“The proposed development, by reason of siting, layout and height, would be overly dominant and would not relate satisfactorily to existing development within the Marina and would fail to preserve the setting of views of strategic importance, in particular views into and out of the Kemp Town Conservation Area, Sussex Downs of outstanding Natural beauty and the Cliff of special Scientific Interest.” (bold added).
This reason for refusal and testing by the Public Inquiry, is of special value to those charged to assimilate the multitude of responses to this Consultation.
Reason 1 above for refusal by LPA was essentially dismissed by the Inspector. The Inspector, Mr. Martin Pike, BA. MA. RITP, neither supported English Heritage.
16.51 “The Council and EH argue that the historic link between the set piece and views of the cliffs and seascape to the east, which is seen as the last remnant of the original concept of Kemp Town as a separate entity from Brighton would be destroyed by the development. But Brighton has long since encroached, with urban development now surrounding the historic estate on three sides, so I find it difficult to accept that such a link remains.
The fact that modern development on the eastern side of Kemp Town is tucked out of sight until reaching the end of Arundel Terrace does not mean that it should be ignored. The kinetic experience which is so much part of the essence of Kemp Town ensures that this development comes into view on the eastern edge of the set piece; a clear demonstration that the historic separation no longer exists. Moreover, the fact that the Council’s Kemp Town Conservation Area Study makes no mention of the cliffs or seascape to the east supports my view that such views are not crucial to the area’s character or setting.
Thus the conclusion that the loss of cliff and sea views would be detrimental to the strategic views along the coastline is, to my mind, a separate argument from that relating to the historic context of Kemp Town.” P130
To lodge my disagreement with this rationale, it would be categorised that the “back, rear or side” of the heritage development has the same weight as the main “front” of the development and therefore the front views can be equally “inflicted” with inappropriate development as those from the side or back. The main argument that is overlooked is that the Estate’s main asset is the unbridled view of the sea’s horizon from both within and without. This is therefore of importance to factor into the key views into and out of and around heritage assets. It has become necessary to protect important Strategic and kinetic views over lesser views. In our case, these need to be set and written into an updated “characterisation” study.
16.43 “…….. At present the cliffs and the sea horizon beyond the Marina gradually come into view as Marine Parade (main seafront road) rises above the shore, but both would be obscured by the proposed development…….at this location, I do not believe that the loss of cliff and distant sea views would be harmful.”P128
The reason for enjoying the drive “along the coast” is “to be able to see it”. By implication, the “weight” of the provision of affordable housing contained in the obstructing building was seen to be greater than the “general public’s loss” of amenity views, which are now included in a “National Park”.
16.137 “…There would be some adverse impacts on the surrounding locality, but mostly these would be slight; in my view the loss of iconic views of the cliffs, the Downs and eastward glimpses of the sea beyond the city, whilst regrettable, would not be sufficient to justify rejection of the proposal.”
It should be noted that the Inspector agreed with the Appellants that the 27 storey tower and Sea Wall buildings were of “quality design” and a “contemporary foil” and there would be “sufficient perception of distance and lateral separation from the terraces not to compete with the set piece”. Furthermore, he believed the tower would “display sufficient quality to allow it to be seen in the same view as the listed terrace without detracting from the historic character of the latter”.
It is my opinion, supported by visuals, the regal charm of the Regency terraces would be replaced as the dominant architectural set piece from several strategic views and would be harmed by the very ordinary looking tower, which has no architectural connection with the set piece or Regency seafront, despite its proximity to Arundel Terrace and intrusion into the skyline and sea horizon from several vantage points with the Estate and Conservation area.
In conclusion, the existence of built and natural heritage and important views to influence planning decisions was exposed to a very significant level. The disappointing truth of the conclusion was that its influence was insignificant, judged by the determination in the decision reached by the Inspector and the Secretary of State, notwithstanding the overall victory in favour of the Council and the local amenity community.
The Role of the Local Council.
It took the dedication of the new incumbent Council leadership to engage with the local residents. Previously “engineered” consultations by the developer and Planning department were evidently designed to steer around the organised opposition. To its credit, the new Council leadership realised the great harm the proposal would have on Brighton historic seafront, the loss of “strategic views” and “setting of the Kemp Town Estate” and the view of the “cliffs”. Using scarce financial resources and overturning years of time committed by its staff and recognising the justified local resistance, the likely desecration of heritage assets assisted by centrally funded planning bodies was prevented.
Many of these “policy assisting” Government agencies have either or are about to be disbanded in the interest of restoring “local” planning as outlined in the “Localism” Bill of the new Coalition Government.
The significance of this Consultation therefore is subject to the shifting winds of political policy. However, the importance of this subject, namely, the protection of the setting of heritage assets, cannot be underestimated. It is clear that should the change of Council leadership not have intercepted to defend local heritage, the planning application would have been approved.
The Role of English Heritage
Significantly, English Heritage was not party to the Inquiry, though its officer(s) submitted several letters to the LPA to convey an ambiguous message from the planning policies on which it relied to issue its guidance, prior to the Inquiry. EH considered the “perambulatory views” would be harmed by the development. The Appellant considered that EH supported their development, after making minor adjustments to the height of the main 27 storey tower, to avoid “overtopping” the Estate’s roof tops from views within the Estate at the request of EH.
I relied in my submission on the EH letters to the LPA to dismantle this assertion by the Appellant. In fact, EH’s letters were far from supportive of their application and were advising more changes, which were unfulfilled.
It has been an undoubted learning experience for our members and, indeed, I am greatly the wiser for the interaction with English Heritage’s officers and the Council’s planning departments. It has not been a wholly encouraging experience, due in many respects to the lack of real practical support from the English Heritage.
It is recognised that functionally English Heritage is constrained to advise the LPA on planning matters of interest to the Council. Local “amenity bodies” such as the Society are considered too local to engage with at that level due to its limited human and financial resources. However, the “nationally important” and designated heritage should not rest entirely on the shoulders of volunteers to protect, when politics attempts to “railroad” the unequivocal protection stated in such protection.
Council planning departments are influenced by the dominant politics of the Council and their interpretation will prioritise one set of planning guidance over others to reach their recommendation. The local community’s reliance on local planning documents and even national ones, proved woefully inadequate to support its case. So this Consultation paper is welcome and holds greater significance than might be first thought.
Notwithstanding this, it is fair to say our meetings with English Heritage to find support in efforts to “defend” heritage against the wilfully destructive policies of the LPA at the time have been “comforting” but not assertive in their support for their heritage planning guidance, which the LPA had been unequivocally provided. These swings of interpretation of national and local planning guidance by changing LPAs cannot be absorbed reliably or reasonably by Amenity groups in the future.
It is my personal view that English Heritage has to take a firmer stand to defend the work of amenity groups to support the heritage assets designated by English Heritage themselves. Advising LPA’s, as critical and worthy as it is, does not adequately define and defend the importance of the designated heritage.
The Worth of “Settings” Guidance
The Consultation’s significance, can only be measured as “fit for purpose”, if it produces benchmark and robust “tests” against which new development are measured. If Planning Consultants and developers in their Application do not meet “material consideration” criteria envisaged by the “settings” Guidance, then their planning application must fail. Exceptions, thereafter, may then be considered.
Without rigorous application of defence of heritage assets and their setting, this again will be another piece of toothless “policy” paper tiger. The desire to preserve or enhance heritage assets and their setting is widely held in the mind of the general public, but I have come to learn that within planning communities, heritage assets and their settings are considered merely as a hindrance to new developments.
It should be the other way round.
It was the Public who felt they had an insufficient voice over the Chelsea Barracks, who sought the intervention of the Prince of Wales. The often “complimentary” relationship of Council planning officers and heavyweight developers and architects are a formidable obstacle for the inexperienced general public to crack open, when obviously controversial applications go forward.
Modernist architectural movement also have friends in high places, with advice from CABE, who are sympathetic to their colleagues’ projects (which came to light with the architect being both involved with the development and on CABE advisory board in this case, (evidence of any conflict or questionable integrity was not in evidence). Locations of protected heritage and natural assets should not necessarily prevent fine modern iconic design. But, surely, it is for new development, with their inherent right to develop, should nonetheless be answerable to the dominant protected heritage landscape, seascape and built environment. If not, protection or preservation holds no weight in planning.
It is because of the need to entrench real guidance; I welcome the importance of this Consultation. The delay past the deadline date is some measure because of the commitment of time to provide you with real substance in relaying the degree of the significance we consider is appropriate in this case.
What is at stake?
Two things impinge on a heritage asset’s setting. Change of profile of the asset and loss of or reduction of its amenity value by the “newer” development proposal.
Primarily, it is the views of or around the heritage asset which is most affected. It changes the “character” of the setting, as well as obscure the “visual” and “wider” appeal of the asset.
I draw your attention to two protected views. One is the Strategic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry’s Mount in Richmond Park. This means that nothing can obscure the view of St. Paul’s across the several miles of parkland and urban development from this point. It is an extremely narrow view, mainly viewed through a telescope.
The second is the Act of Parliament, protecting the view of the Thames and pastureland from Richmond Hill. This view is designated and much wider. Nothing is permitted to intrude into it in the way of new of redeveloped buildings.
No doubt, there are similar Strategic views across the Country, which have protection. Maybe there needs to be more. It is certainly time to require new developments to meet a nationally set guidance benchmarks, which they cannot get round by means of leaning on LPA’s and powerless private citizen groups.
Definitions: taken from the Oxford Concise Dictionary
“Assets” ……. ‘a useful or valuable quality’…’any possession having value’
“Affects”…… ‘produce an affect on’
“Character”…. ‘a collection of qualities or characteristics that distinguish a thing’. EH ..historic place is the sum of all its attributes. Place and its relationship with People, its visual aspect, features, materials, and spaces associated with its history.
“Conserve”…. ‘store up, keep from harm or damage’
“Context”…… ‘of historic place, embraces any relationship between it andother places, which are relevant to its heritage values.
“Enjoyment” … ‘take delight and pleasure in’
“Enhance” …. ‘improve (something of already good quality)’
“Harms”……. ‘hurt, damage’
“Regard”…… ‘give heed to’.’have some connection with’
“Setting”…… ‘the immediate surroundings (of a house, etc.)’
“Preserve”…… ‘keep safe and free from harm, decay’
“Quality”……. ‘degree of excellence of a thing’.
The Parliamentary Acts:
Planning (listed building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
Section 66 (1)
……“whether to grant planning permission for development which affects a listed building or its setting.
2.5 This section applies where an application for planning permission for any development or land is made to a local planning authority and the development would result in the opinion of the authority, ‘affect the setting’ of a listed building.
….areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.
…development would in the opinion of the authority, affect the character or appearance of a conservation area.
Consultation Section 2:
Defining setting and assessing its contribution to significance, needs to incorporate references as noted above.
There is no doubt protection of listed heritage and its setting and there relationship with planning has had some time to mature. But it some way to go to be placed on an equal footing to the actual planning of new buildings.
Character of the area setting.
The prevailing architectural, built and natural environment style or distinguishing features and profile needs to be defined clearly.
The key factor in developing the influence on the heritage assets need to be prioritised, with, I suggest a scoring range of 1-5 demarcating the level of “harm”, which is factoring the degree of change.
Measuring the Impact of changes to the setting usually relate to
- The scale of the change.
If the scale of the proposed change will dominate the setting and thereby bring harm to the heritage assets, then this scale needs to be measured.
a) Massing of the change, as it relates to the heritage assets. This means to measure the amount of building removes the natural backdrop of the heritage assets. It is not merely a measure of the height of the change, but the overall mass from four points of the compass in its relationship to the setting on which it shares with the adjacent properties.
b) Scale, as it relates to size of the development and the degree it will “overshadow” the heritage. The percentage of the scale of the building outlined against its neighbouring builds
c) Distance away from the heritage assets. The distance will diminish the effect of massing and scale.
- Colour and use of materials
The affect on the new development will blend into the dominant materials in use.
Properties today are using technologically mixed materials, many of which contradict the dominant materials of its setting. Steel and glass, prefabricated concrete, metals, and highly coloured materials are often at odds with the neighbouring heritage property(ies). These colours and materials need far greater distance of “separation” if they are not to bring harm to the heritage assets.
In our case, the 1992 Characterisation Study was inadequate to protect our heritage assets. It had not considered that such a large scale development would ever be considered to be permitted on such a location.
In order for Design and Access Statements and Environment Statements to properly respond to “designated” heritage settings, it should be required for the new development to have to meet the test of “not harming” the setting. It should also spell out the means by which the new planning arrangements will find ways to “comply” to meeting the characterisation tests.
The characterisation of the area and the relationship of the proposed development to it.
In the Public Inquiry, the Kemp Town Estate and Conservation Area was exposed to significant change, as noted by the Inspector, because the 1992 Conservation Study has not addressed views of the sea or changes to the setting of the Estate over the years. It neither addresses the setting, as pointed out by the inspector. Clearly, this is now the imperative of the Local Council to upgrade the old study and make it fit the new paradigm.
This suggests, that in future all Conservation Areas and listed historic properties will require a much more rigorous description of what is to be protected and the significance of the asset and why it requires such rigour in its protection. Despite being pointed out that Grade 1 listing is of “exceptional” historic significance, it made little difference as if Grade 11* or 11.
In our case, I believe views of the sea from many points of the Conservation Area should be demarked as important strategic views. The reason is that 1) it was a condition of the original Kemp Lease not to build in front of the Estate 2) The very purpose of the buildings was and is to have unhindered views of the sea 3) the general public’s eye, would be “detracted” by the new towers in front of the Estate away from the Regency set piece (EH). Therefore, a review of “Strategic Views” should be considered in areas of historic importance.
The arbitrary determination of a few limited points assumes no one walks along or around the historic setting. EH particularly addressed perambulatory views. Some degree of measure of these views should be factored; 1-10, maybe.
The perambulatory views as they relate to setting are the visual “lungs” of the set piece. It is the unhindered space around the focus of historic attention to be allowed the right to exist without interference from unwelcome intrusion by competing objects.
First floor piano nobili are also strategically important views. It is argued that no-one is entitled to a view. But in exceptional cases views, I believe, English Heritage should enact, through legislation, designations that the “prime” or principal location views from within collective Grade 1 listed buildings, such as Bath’s Royal Crescent and other important “set piece” architecture, such as the Kemp Town Estate. This might also be extended to some of England’s Historic Country houses.
This will avoid the misfortune and expense of developers thinking they have the right to develop unhindered on the basis of persuasion through the Planning Inspectorate, should they have not prevailed over the local LPA.
History of the View.
Visual Impact studies
TA – photographic representations.
Views from Street level
From First floors of the primary architectural influencing properties.
1) Does the consultation on setting conform to PPS 5 (Planning for the Historic Environment and Practice Guide).
It is clear the Consultation draws attention to a wider range of concerns affecting “settings”. It calls for LPA to build in great protection for Heritage Assests, but how to do this is not clear. PPS 5 purpose is clear, but planners tend to plan wildly in excess of the guidance, in the hope they will bend the LPA into approval with S106 offsets. This is a form of legalised backhanders.
2) EH setting guidance applies the heritage values approach in Conservation Principles, policy and Guidance. Is this approach helpful? Guidance needs to have a means of measurement. It is vital to set a scoring or point system to make it clear. It becomes very clouded when personal “tastes” are involved.
3) Omission of Tall Buildings and wind turbines, etc. Do you agree? Right balance? No. It should be integrated into a ONE document guidance.
4) Section 3. Assessment framework. Issues which need to be taken into account. Are these correct factors to consider? Check para 49 for structure of assessment.
5) Para 55-58 – Cumulative impacts. What is your view on Para 58. It is a useful to point this out. But the LPA is of necessity “reacting” to planning applications. Cumulative impacts would be considered in their Core Strategy documents, which may not reach an Applicant.
6) Para 63-74 - Illustrations. Analytical approach to setting. Is approach helpful.
My criticism of the Consultation Paper is that it does attempt to broaden the scope of setting beyond the visual. The public enjoyment of a place is primarily concerned about this aspect. To include noise and other considerations (18) though merited, are less permanent than a new building.
What needs to be done is to provide scales or measures by which new developments both large and small are required to conform to the character of the heritage area into which it is to be set. Both within the heritage curtilege, the townscape AND setting. The “quality” of the building requires definition. Despite new materials and the technical ability to build to great heights or adventurously “out of character” of the surrounding dominant architecture, it must be obvious to EH and CABE that
wild application of such techniques and materials will not sit well with those who pay a price for its “avante garde” nature.
This submission is undertaken in the interest of the Members of the Kemp Town Estate. It may not reflect all the concerns of its members, or indeed other residents in the area, but the underlying assertions were applauded at the time of the Public Enquiry.
Paul Phillips, Chairman July 2011.