NATHAN BLANCHARD
 
The art of making stage 1 THI applications
The Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) can be an effective means of
regenerating conservation areas. The deadline for the next round of stage 1 applications is in May.

 
Since 1998 the Heritage Lottery fund (HLf) has supported 163 schemes and offered £136 million in support of the regeneration of communities within conservation areas through its Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI). The amount sought by applicants has risen year on year. With the HLf entering a period where its ability to offer funds is reduced, competition is growing. Only those applications most closely adhering to our priorities are likely to receive assistance. With the round 9 (2006) deadline rapidly approaching in early May, it is hoped that a strong set of applications will be submitted from across the UK.
The THI programme’s focus is on schemes where there is a threat to the special character of a conservation area; where this threat is as a result or related to social or economic problems; where a proposed scheme contributes to wider regeneration proposals; which involve and deliver benefits to the wider community; where the public benefit of THI investment will outweigh private benefit during the lifetime of the scheme; and where the benefits will be sustained in the longer term, including the conservation area being properly managed.
The THI programme was established to tackle the decline of many conservation areas. It responds to policy directions set by the DCMS, specifically ‘the scope for reducing economic and social deprivation at the same time as creating heritage benefits’. This is translated into the HLf’s strategic aim to promote heritage conservation as an integral part of rural and urban conservation. Social and economic factors, among others, can impede the adoption and development of the proper management of conservation areas, including a conservation-led approach to the repair and maintenance of historic buildings. Only through tackling the causes of decline will longer-term sustainable benefits be experienced.
Perhaps your application is premature?
• You have an existing or emerging regeneration grant scheme and an evaluation of its impact has not been undertaken.
• There is no wider regeneration strategy or one that excludes the historic environment as a recognisable asset or theme.
• Key community groups are not involved in formulating the bid.
• There is no willingness to use planning powers proactively to underpin delivery of the programme.
• You lack a track record in delivering conservation programmes or such expertise is not available.
The Rochead Building in the Glasgow Merchant City townscape heritage initiative
The THI programme encourages a comprehensive and holistic approach to tackling the issues of decline of the special character and interest. It is comprehensive in seeking to tackle an area’s problems by repairing and reusing critical properties that blight the perception of an area by investors and the community. It is holistic in encouraging local authorities to work across services and with their funding partners and communities in buying into an action plan and in joined-up delivery.
Too often the THI programme is seen only as a repair grant for properties within conservation areas. This underplays its versatility and what can be achieved if imaginative proposals are submitted by local authorities and other applicants.
The THI can assist not only with the more traditional grants towards repair and architectural reinstatement but also with encouraging the reuse of underused floorspace; supporting better external designs for gap sites; funding the additional costs of authentic reinstatement of lost public realm; paying to employ a project manager to coordinate and administer the scheme; developing a programme of conservation skills training for contractors, professionals, local authority officers and property owners involved with the THI; and encouraging complementary initiatives which support delivery and promote the THI in encouraging increased access, education and caring for the heritage, securing a sustainable approach to conservation into the longer term.
Crucial to delivering a THI is the degree to which a local authority as lead partner can bring together its services, acting in a coordinated manner not only
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Derby townscape heritage initiative
We also recognise the need to maximise the opportunities and benefits of a joined-up approach with other partners, such as development agencies and the statutory historic environment agencies. Such bodies may well have disparate aims but they should have shared objectives in the wider regeneration of an area. This can be clearly illustrated in successful applications by recognising the role and value of the historic environment in master plans or wider regeneration strategies which underpin the bid and provide the strategic context for a THI. We also recognise that in smaller communities the THI is often the regeneration vehicle, and it can act as a catalyst and build confidence in encouraging wider initiatives which complement the regeneration of a community.
The THI programme positively promotes the engagement and involvement of the local community in both the formulation and delivery of the programme. How this is achieved will depend on local conditions, the interest of established stakeholders, their track record and their skills. Applicants should demonstrate that they have engaged the community, which at the initial stage 1 could be restricted to key community groups to illustrate support and help determine priorities without raising unnecessary expectations. Such involvement is vital if
Key staff of a local authority THI project team
Development control, conservation, planning enforcement, building control, housing renewal, economic development, legal services, finance or accountancy, highways and administrative support.
community aspirations are to be realised while ensuring that a conservation-led approach is understood, valued and continued beyond the lifetime of the scheme.
It is important to instil a sense of good conservation practice among property owners, agents, contractors and non-conservation staff within applicant bodies, and to raise awareness within the community and representative stakeholder organisations. Success may well depend on the base level of experience and interest in heritage. Building this into both the development of THI applications and through the implementation of the scheme can awaken a realisation of the value of heritage to the regeneration of a community. Ensuring this awareness is established and fostered during a scheme is again vital to caring for the conservation area in the longer term.
This could be facilitated through the involvement of key community groups in setting priorities and monitoring performance of the programme; arranging site visits for key stakeholders to key projects before, during and after the completion of works; establishing wider heritage events which celebrate the role of the historic built environment to a community’s well being; formulating targeted publications that assist in the proper management, understanding and enjoyment of the local historic environment within the THI area, beyond the conservation area management plan; ensuring that the
to deliver the action plan but to do so in a manner consistent with a conservation-led approach (this should not discourage other non-local authority applicants, but they should be aware that sufficient specialist services may well need to be sourced externally, and support of the bodies which have such powers is vital). A local authority’s expertise in the areas of building conservation, housing renewal, planning enforcement, building control, property valuation, programme management, legal services and financial control, among others, will be a key consideration in our assessment of them. Applicants should be aware that the call on these resources can be considerable at times such as the initial set-up phase, during complex negotiations and where enforcement action including compulsory purchase is pursued in underpinning the delivery of the agreed action plan.
Issues to be considered prior to submitting a stage 1 application
• Ensure the programme goes beyond tackling property issues and looks to challenge attitudes and perceptions as to the role of the historic environment in regeneration.
• Ensure that proposed works to properties are comprehensive, holistic and lasting. Dealing with facades only and small-scale heritage tinkering are not the focus of the THI programme.
• Joined-up delivery within both local authorities and partners is crucial.
• The potential and support within local authorities for using planning powers proactively (including Article (4)2 Directions, and enforcement and planning decisions in accordance with conservation area management plans to underpin delivery) is paramount in encouraging the carrot-and-stick approach in tackling long-term problematic properties.
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Five key project risks to be addressed in your application
• How to ensure grant take up and delivery of the action plan programme.
• The employment and retention of a suitably experienced project manager.
• Achieving a longer-term sustainable approach to managing the conservation area.
• Securing partnership funding and contingencies for its loss.
• Addressing the conservation deficit in terms of skills and experience.
local media fully understand and positively promote the scheme; keeping local politicians within town, district and county councils, local MPs, MSPs, AMs and MLAs abreast of progress in tackling issues through the THI. Perhaps the most important consideration in the assessment of an application is the submission of a realistic programme. Although the programme can offer between £250,000 and £2 million of assistance within a common fund of other public assistance, it is important to avoid the temptation to over bid or fail to consider all the associated costs of a scheme. reasonably justified costings include not only the physical works to properties but also associated VAT, professional fees, contingencies, inflation, programme running costs, complementary initiatives, training and the costs of
employing a suitably qualified and experienced project manager.
In conclusion, with the deadline for the next round of stage 1 applications due in early May, the THI is an ideal programme for securing a key vehicle for the regeneration of conservation areas. Attributes of a potentially successful application include a focus on comprehensively tackling disrepair, disuse and dilapidation within a realistic joined-up programme that secures wider benefits and provides a secure basis for the management of conservation areas in the longer term.
To assist in this we suggest that you ensure you have the latest application form, guidance notes and other information on the programme (downloadable from www.hlf.org.uk); contact existing schemes already under way for informal guidance, perhaps even organising a site visit to see what has been achieved and how; be realistic about what needs to be achieved for your conservation area, how you will achieve it and with what resources (do not be blinded by the levels of funding potentially available – we still unfortunately see over-bidding); contact your HLf country or regional team’s development officer to discuss your potential application (their contact details are also on our website); and sound out colleagues across the local authority, potential funding partners and local politicians to gauge whether such an application is likely to be supported over the full period of its formulation and implementation.
References
1 DCMS Policy Direction to NHMf Trustees – 2B (iii), August 1998
2 HLf Strategic Plan 2002-7, Broadening the Horizons of Heritage, May 2002
3 ‘The THI: renewing the heart of our historic towns and cities’, Judy Cligman, The Building Conservation Directory, 2001
4 ‘Changing perceptions through the Townscape Heritage Initiative’, Nathan Blanchard, Context 85, July 2004
5 Townscape Heritage Initiative Long-term Evaluation: summary interim report, Department of Planning (Townscape and Heritage research Unit), Philip grover and Alan reeve, Oxford Brookes University, 2005
Formerly at the Heritage Lottery Fund, Nathan Blanchard is now with the Conservation Studio.









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