I care about where I live – celebrating 50 years of conservation areas

In this guest blog, Ian Harvey from Civic Voice tells us about National Civic Day, and this year’s focus on celebrating 50 years of conservation areas.

Visitors in Lacock Village, Wiltshire, one of the Conservation Areas within the Trust’s care ©National Trust Images/John Millar

“Planning authorities are working under very difficult conditions at the moment with recent legislation increasing workload, shortage of space and staff, and not being helped by the general effects of cutbacks in spending”.

I don’t think anybody would disagree with the above account, would they? But would you be surprised to hear that this was a statement from a 1969 publication setting out the context in which the first 200 conservation areas were designated across England?

Yet 50 years after the father of the conservation movement, Lord Duncan Sandys, implemented the Civic Amenities Act, the comment is as relevant today as it was then.

This Saturday, 17th June, is National Civic Day, a day to celebrate where you live and what makes it special for you. This year we’re focusing on conservation areas to ensure that in 50 years’ time, Lord Duncan Sandys’ legacy will live on.

I care about where I live ©Arthur Proctor, Civic Voice

What are conservation areas?

They’re areas of special interest in the places that we live, designated for their particular architectural and historic features. The concept of conservation areas was introduced in England, Wales and Scotland by the Civic Amenities Act 1967 through a private members bill led by Lord Duncan Sandys, Civic Trust founder.

50 years on, England now has approximately 10,000 conversations areas, ranging from the centres of our historic towns and cities, to historic transport links, such as stretches of canal.

Over the next week, dozens of events will be taking place in them, so that communities can celebrate where they live.

I care about where I live

The purpose of Civic Day is to say “I care about where i live”. This may involve picking up a piece of litter, or getting involved in a debate. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that more of us need to be “civic”.  As Civic Voice President, Griff Rhys Jones once said “Ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do in your city”.

©Arthur Proctor Civic Voice

There are plenty of people who already do the “localism” the Government is preaching. There are tens of thousands of volunteers as part of the civic movement who, since 1846, have been quietly shaping the places we all live and work in, for the better.

On Saturday June 17th, they want you to learn more about and celebrate our shared heritage in the places on your doorstep. So tell Beverley in Yorkshire what you like about the town. Go wandering through the Potteries and be amazed, or take a photograph and capture where you live and share it on twitter. Whatever you do, be civic and celebrate where you live.

Find out more about Civic Day at www.civicvoice.org.uk and get involved with the conversation on social media via #civicday and #myconservationareamatters

Blog by Ian Harvey, Executive Director at Civic Voice.

The National Trust owns land in 457 conservation areas in England, 10 of which are considered by Historic England to be “At Risk” and a further 101 are considered “Vulnerable”. A continuing decline in the numbers of conservation officers and enforcement officers employed by local councils is not helping this situation. 

We would like to see extra resources invested in local planning authorities to help them preserve or enhance Conservation Areas – as required by the 1967 Civic Amenities Act. This would help ensure their future, for everyone to enjoy.

Civic Day – a flavour of some of the events taking place across the country this Saturday:

  • Bath today has one city wide conservation area which covers 1,486 hectares and is home to about 50,000 people. The conservation area includes the city’s unique and much celebrated heritage, but it also encompasses less well known areas which have a range of different characteristics. Bath’s conservation area was first designated in 1968, one of the first six to be designated in the country.  This Saturday, the local building historian and conservation officer will be leading a walking tour around the Lower Lansdown and Camden area of the city-wide conservation area. The walk will show how this part of the city has developed over time and invite participation in a discussion about the area’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats facing the character area. Exploration of what matters most to people will help inform the developing conservation area character appraisal for the Bath Conservation Area which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017.
  • A wonderful opportunity to celebrate and enjoy Swindon’s unique Railway Village Conservation Area will be available as Swindon Civic Voice and Mechanics’ Institution Trust have teamed up to offer ‘Open Doors’ at four of Swindon’s treasured heritage assets: Milton Road Baths, the Railway Village Museum, Central Community Centre and The Baker’s Arms. Tours of the Railway Village will also be given at 11am and 3pm. At 4pm there will be tea and cake and a special unveiling at Central Community Centre!
  • In Southgate, London, over 150 photographs were submitted by members of Southgate Photographic Society as part of Southgate Civic Trust’s photographic competition. The pictures were all taken within the ten designated conservation areas covered by Southgate District Civic Trust.  They’re on display in the Southgate Station shop unit, kindly leased at a peppercorn rent to SDCT by Transport for London.  The competition’s objective was to make a record at 50 years of the flora, fauna, people and the built environment within these designated conservation areas.
  • In Pontefract the local civic society will be leading walks through Market Place (which is actually most of the town centre), The Castle, The Mount (for which the civic society was responsible for achieving conservation area status), Button Park & Friarwood. Similarly the Potteries Society will be leading walks and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the five conservation areas in Stoke.
  • Or how about getting involved in a big debate on the future of Merseyside and presenting the findings to the new City Mayor, Steve Rotherham? You can do that if you visit the Bluecoat centre, Liverpool on Saturday for the “State of the City Debate”

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