Ignorance of the significance of
the features of historic parks and gardens
is no excuse, says Mary Stacey.

The most important historic parks and
gardens have long been recognised but it is
only relatively recently that attention has
been focused on the rest of the genre.
Threats to such sites come daily with pro-
posals for golf courses, pressure for parking
and other new uses inserted into the
designed landscape with little attention as
to how best to retain the character of the
A recent research project* examined
how historic parks and gardens are treated
in the planning system. With AGO mem-
bers preparing to go to Staffordshire to dis-
cuss historic parks and gardens at the next
annual school, it seems timely to report
what emerged from the study on the role
of Conservation Officers.
A large vacuum in the planning system
with regard to the protection of historic
parks and gardens was revealed.
Development control officers were asked
if there was a specific officer they would
consult if an application affected an his-
toric park or garden. 66.5% could identify
no specific officer as being particularly
concerned. This means that most of these
applications are dealt with by the develop-
ment control officer alone. This raises
questions of how such applications are
identified. One respondent stated that in
20 years of working in development con-
trol, the situation had never arisen.
Where are Conservation Officers in all
this? The rest of the respondents who iden-
tified an officer they might consult men-
tioned, in order of occurrence, district
Conservation Officer, landscape architect,
county Conservation Officer, or another
planning officer. Some combinations were
cited. Where an individual officer takes a
personal interest in the subject, there can
be a notable effect on an authority’s actions
(although only two counties have historic
parks and gardens officers).
Therefore, Conservation Officers are the
most commonly identified as being partic-
ularly interested in historic parks and gar-
dens. However there remains a large
majority of development control officers

Stacey, M: ‘Historic parks and gardens in the planning
process’. Unpublished postgraduate dissertation, Depart-
ment of Town & Country Planning, Bristol Polytechnic,
who do not identify any particular officer.
There is clearly a lot of work for Conserva-
tion Officers to do if they want to assert
their interest in the subject.
Why is there such a vacuum? Is it
because historic parks and gardens fall
between the two stools of the built and
natural environment? Or is it because his-
toric parks and gardens are a relatively new
subject in the field of conservation law and
there is no planning measure designed
specifically for parks and gardens?
English Heritage has been compiling a
Register of historic parks and gardens for
less than 10 years. Circular 8/87 states that
the role of this Register is

so that highway and planning authori-
ties, and developers, know that they
should try to safeguard them when
planning new road schemes and new
development generally.

It is not clear from this exactly what
weight the Register is intended to have,
though it has since been accepted as a
material consideration at appeal. Nor is it
clear from the Circular what measures
authorities are to use to protect such sites.
In the absence of specific measures
authorities are protecting them by a patch-
work of Tree Preservation Orders, conser-
vation area designations, listed building
legislation, development plan policies and
Article 4 Directions. This is both cumber-
some and limiting as it is still not easy to
protect the essence of a garden. (The sub-
ject of a recent article in Planning.)
Although the Register is relatively new,
it is becoming fairly well known. 53% of
authorities have registered sites on their
constraints maps and another 29% check
applications against the Register, but the
proportion of sites which are actually on
the Register is small. In Avon where a
comprehensive survey of the county’s his-
toric parks and gardens has been undertak-
en, fewer than 10% are on the Register.
Surveys to establish a local list are
underway in a number of counties. This is
a very important step. Sites should be put
onto constraints maps so that development
control officers have the information they
need. At present only 3.5% of authorities
have historic parks and gardens on their
constraints maps. Identification of appli-
cations which affect historic parks and gar-
dens is therefore arbitrary.
Sites entered on the Sites and Monu-
ments Record would ensure that PPG 16
on Archaeology and Planning could be
implemented to secure an evaluation
before an application is determined. This
would enable further information to be
collated so that an informed decision could
be taken. The Garden History Society has
for some time now been advocating survey
prior to decision-making and this has led
to more sympathetic planning decisions in
a number of cases.
The first task for Conservation Officers
is to ensure that a list of local parks and
gardens is compiled. This may need to be
done in conjunction with volunteers.
Members of organisations such as the Gar-
den History Society and gardens trusts
possess expertise and are willing to work
with local authorities. The Centre for the
Conservation of Historic Parks and Gar-
dens in York is co-ordinating a national
inventory on a county by county basis and
advice may be available from there.
Some counties, for example Cam-
bridgeshire and Norfolk, have produced
reports on parklands to encourage their
sympathetic management. Avon has pro-
duced a gazetteer to be used for develop-
ment control purposes. Such documents
raise awareness of the subject within the
planning system and make it easier for plan-
ning officers to make informed decisions.
Whether historic parks and gardens
should be given statutory protection is
currently being debated. Development
control officers are overwhelmingly (97%)
in favour of the same level of protection as
other heritage features.
Conservation Officers should be seen to
take the lead thus ensuring that the plan-
fling system protects this important aspect
of the heritage. At the moment this is best
achieved by compiling a local list and
highlighting its signifiance.
The author would like to thank all those
who replied to the questionnaire.

Mary Stacey is Conservation Officer with Avon County Planning