Progress on conservation accreditation and qualifications
The last few months have seen important progress on several fronts, reports John Preston.
The greatest incentives for encouraging membership of the Register, and for raising standards of conservation work generally, lie in the financial clout wielded by the national grant-giving bodies.
New Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation
English Heritage, Historic Scotland, CADW and DOE Northern Ireland have all given encouragement to the new Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC Register), which has been set up with a grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. This Register has emerged from what had previously been proposed by the RIBA Conservation Group before it became defunct. It has now "floated free" and is overseen by a newly formed company - ACCON Ltd. The Board of ACCON Ltd will include representatives of the architectural institutes of the UK, the UK statutory bodies, the specialised architectural and conservation societies and the amenity societies to represent the public interest. 1 am the IHBC representative.

Membership of the Register is open to Architects registered with the Architects Registration Board who can demonstrate experience and technical competence in the field of architectural conservation. There will be categories for practising and nonpractising architects; the latter include those who may be unavailable for practice because they are working for statutory organisations or teaching. The initial assessment fee is £150, with an annual registration maintenance fee of £25. Members will be fully re-assessed every five years, at which time a further full application will be required.

Applications for membership of the Register are assessed with reference to the internationally recognised ICOMOS Training Guidelines, adopted at Colombo in 1993: These state that:

  • Conservation works should only be entrusted to persons competent in these specialist activities.
  • Education and training for conservation should produce from a range of professionals, conservationists who are able to:
  1. read a monument, ensemble or site and identify its emotional, cultural and use significance;
  2. understand the history and technology of monuments, ensembles or sites in order to define their identity ' plan for their conservation, and interpret the results of this research;
  3. understand the setting of a monument, ensemble or site, their contents and surroundings, in relation to other buildings, gardens or landscapes;
  4. find and absorb all available sources of information relevant to the monument, ensemble or site being studied;
  5. understand and analyse the behaviour of monuments, ensembles and sites as complex systems;
  6. diagnose intrinsic and extrinsic causes of decay as a basis for appropriate action;
  7. inspect and make reports intelligible to non-specialist readers of monuments, ensembles or sites, illustrated by graphic means such as sketches and photographs;
  8. know, understand and apply UNESCO conventions and recommendations, and ICOMOS and other recognised Charters, regulations and guidelines;
  9. make balanced judgements based on shared ethical principles, and accept responsibility for the long-term welfare of cultural heritage;
  10. recognise when advice must be sought and define the areas of need of study by different specialists, e.g. wall paintings, sculpture and objects of artistic and historic value, and/or studies of materials and systems;
  11. give expert advice on maintenance strategies, management policies and the policy framework for environmental protection and preservation of monuments, and their contents, and sites;
  12. document works executed and make same accessible;
  13. work in multi-disciplinary groups using sound methods;
  14. be able to work with inhabitants, administrators and planners to resolve conflicts and to develop conservation strategies appropriate to local needs, abilities and resources.

Applicants for membership of the Register have to provide details of five projects with a commentary on the philosophy adopted relative to the ICOMOS criteria. The assessment is carried out by teams each comprising two architects experienced in conservation joined by an external assessor to represent the public interest.

The Register is overseen by a Supervisory Board representing the Architectural institutes (RIBA, RIAS, RSUA, RSAW), Statutory Bodies (English Heritage, Historic Scotland, CADW, DoE Northern Ireland), Specialised Institutes etc. (among which IHBC is grouped with the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association, ASCHB and the Cathedral Architects Association), the Public Interest (joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies, Council for the Care of Churches, Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England). RICS Conservation Group has a representative on the Board.

The aim is for the Register to be a fairly close counterpart of the RICS accreditation scheme (RIAS in Scotland has its own scheme already).

An initial seminar of the Supervisory Board and Assessors was held in June. This highlighted a range of issues involved in the assessment process, and the need to consider more precise development of the standards to ensure credible criteria and quality control. it was clear even at this early stage that the information requirements and the assessment process provide a systematic basis for accreditation, which will be a great improvement on the present ad hoc or selfcertified lists of architects working in the conservation field.

The success or failure of the Register will depend on whether it achieves the "critical mass" needed to enable it to become self-supporting. A membership application involves significant cost and effort. The major potential incentive is for architects working in the field to promote their skills in repair works. 1H13C members working as Conservation Officers will see the immediate advantages of being able to direct owners of historic buildings towards professionals with the relevant specialist skills, in a far more systematic way than is possible at present. IHBC Members who are Registered Architects will be able to get further details of membership requirements for the Register from: The Hon. Registrar. AABC Register, 33 Macclesfield Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 2AF, Tel: (01625) 523784, Fax: (01625) 548328.

The greatest incentives for encouraging membership of the Register, and for raising standards of conservation work generally, lie in the financial clout wielded by the national grant-giving bodies. It looks as though this potential could soon be realised in Scotland:

Scots commitment to professional body accreditation for lead professionals on grant projects
The Historic Buildings Council for Scotland's Annual report for 1997-1998 (published March 1999) highlighted key issues relating to the quality of grant work and the need for accreditation:

16. The question of the appropriate background and experience for the lead professional on grant-aided projects continues to be a cause for concern. Fundamental difficulties have been experienced in seeking to achieve the appropriate quality and standards in a number of Historic Building Grant Scheme cases. It is acknowledged that amongst professionals there is a lack of understanding of traditional materials and how to use them, as most undergraduate training focuses on new build and modem technology, materials and methods of construction. In recent years, however, there has been a number of positive developments both in education and training in conservation and in professional accreditation and Continuous Professional Development. There has also been a growing recognition that building conservation work should be entrusted only to persons educated and trained to be competent in these specialist activities.

17. We welcomed these developments, and considered that the National Vocational Qualification Level 5: Conservation Consultancy [see Ingval Maxwell's article, Context 62 June 1999 pp. 28-29] framework represented an appropriate method of supporting the professional body accreditation methodologies for practitioners and of providing a structured Continuing Professional Development approach in architectural conservation. We also agreed, that within a 3 to 5-year period, professional body accreditation should become a condition of grant "(my underlining) 'for lead professionals working on Historic Building Repair Grant projects."

This requirement for lead professionals on grant projects to be properly accredited is the most positive commitment yet made by the funding bodies to raising professional standards, and provides a clear financial incentive for individuals to seek accreditation. It has to be seen against the background of established accreditation arrangements (RIAS as well RICS) within Scotland. This progress in Scotland will hopefully blaze the trail for developments elsewhere, but no equivalent commitment has so far been forthcoming from English Heritage or the other funding bodies.

The Historic Building Council for Scotland's report is also notable for its reference to the Level 5 NVQ/SVQ in Conservation Consultancy framework, as an appropriate basis for supporting accreditation methodologies. This qualification provides a national set of standards based directly on the ICOMOS Guidelines, and as such has ideal potential for taking the current developments forward on a more rigorous basis.

National Vocational Qualifications now approved
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has approved the three higher level NVQs in Budding Conservation [Level 5 Conservation Consultancy, Level 4 Controlling Conservation and Building Site Management (Conservation)]. Now that the long wait for formal approval is over, COTAC and EdExcel (the awarding body) are working on the arrangements for delivering the new qualifications, in consultation with the professions and the universities. I will be involved in this process, and 1 will circulate further information through IHBC News and Context as soon as it is available.

John Preston, IHBC Education Officer
Context 63 September 2002