2010 Yearbook

r e v i e w 23 The heart of the THI at Bridgend (see p37) CONSERVATION SERVICES IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT Each edition of the IHBC Yearbook includes a selection of articles which illustrates aspects of the work of IHBC members. This year the focus is on the work of conservation professionals working in and on behalf of local authorities. Of the IHBC’s 2,050 members, 40 per cent work in local government. This is the largest sector of employment for members, slightly ahead of the private sector, as illustrated in the pie chart on page nine. Most of these are conservation officers, although their remit is often far wider than this suggests, extending to areas such as urban design, regeneration and archaeology. The following five articles explore the range of conservation work carried out by our members and other professionals across a surprisingly varied field. This includes not only planning services, but also almost every conceivable aspect of heritage conservation and urban regeneration, including grant aid, training and even asset management and development, since it should not be forgotten that local authorities themselves often own significant historic buildings. The historic estate of local authorities can include landmark buildings such as town halls, libraries, museums and art galleries, but also more easily overlooked examples, such as early social housing. The spaces between the buildings also fall within their domain, including everything from milestones and ancient footways to fountains, war memorials and landscaped parks and gardens. In the first article, two officers from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea outline recently completed conservation work at Leighton House, which has one of the most opulent of Victorian interiors, and is now open to the public. One of the authors is the conservation officer responsible, and the other is the curator. Another article (p32) outlines the Townscape Heritage Initiative regeneration of Bridgend, a small market town in South Wales, hit hard by the closure of the coalmines nearby. The way forward for the THI was paved by a pedestrianisation scheme and the restoration of a 15th century footbridge leading into the new public space. Two of the articles look at different aspects of conservation in local authority planning services. Ian Mudie of Dundee City Council provides the overview (p37), examining the challenges facing these services at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. John Hoath (p41) provides a more detailed view from the perspective of a contractor working on the repair of one element of a 16th-century building. Both articles highlight the issues surrounding service provision. With massive cuts in public services looming, these two articles provide a timely illustration of how local authorities’ resources in this area are already stretched. Any reduction in the resources of local authorities, and the statutory authorities such as English Heritage, could impair their ability to deliver advice on time and to the required standard. This could have a real impact on the viability of historic building conservation and regeneration projects. Even now, there are a few local authorities that do not employ any conservation officers at all. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings highlights their involvement in the delivery of planning services in another article (p29), providing voluntary sector support across a wide range of overlapping areas. These articles demonstrate the diversity of the structures and resources used to secure conservation on behalf of local authorities and communities. They show that there is no one simple model that will deliver local ‘Historic Environment Conservation Services’, however they are defined. But they do add to the substantial body of evidence which demonstrates that dedicated conservation professionals, working to local interests and aspirations within and on behalf of local authorities, can provide a uniquely important resource for delivering the widest corporate agendas of local government. 1 This is particularly timely in light of the ‘localism’ agenda of the incoming coalition government. The IHBC is delighted to present these case studies, which show how our members carry out their professional and personal responsibilities on behalf of local authorities, securing the conservation of the historic environment and the wide benefits brought by such informed management. 1 This includes the IHBC’s own research into conservation services, as well as the DCMS-English Heritage-funded work on ‘Local Delivery’, and Asset Skills’ research into Local Environment Management (see www.ihbc.org.uk/recent_papers.htm for further information), all of which confirm the value and potential of locally empowered conservation services.