West Berkshire Council are setting up an exciting opportunity for local communities, amenity groups, the Council and the West Berkshire Heritage Forum to work together to appraise the special character of their local areas, help shape future development, and to gain a greater understanding about the history and development of their local area.

The Council, in partnership with the West Berkshire Heritage Forum, is in the process of developing a training package to help facilitate community-led Conservation Area Appraisals. This collaborative approach has been designed to actively involve local communities and amenity groups in the production of Conservation Area Appraisals, rather than just at late-stage consultation.

Conservation Area Appraisals help local communities, planners, developers, home owners etc. to understand the history of an area and why it is special. They help shape future developments and planning policies are an essential tool for developing a strategy for the implementation of short, medium and long term management proposals for conservation areas.  They also form part of the evidence base for local plans and are a material consideration in planning decisions.

There are currently 53 conservation areas within West Berkshire, of these only two have an adopted Conservation Area Appraisal in place. 

The Council is therefore acutely aware that the conservation areas across the district need reviewing.  It has therefore carried out a prioritisation exercise to align the future programme of Conservation Area Appraisals with the limited resources available.

This exercise involved the development of a Prioritisation Methodology which has been used to identify those conservation areas that are under the greatest level of pressure from development and have been subject to the greatest level of change. The methodology has also been designed to identify the level of inaccuracy evident in the existing conservation area boundaries through desktop analysis of existing boundaries.

Taking into account the results of the prioritisation methodology, and resources available to carry out the reviews, the following seven year work programme is proposed, broken down into 5 separate phases and East Ilsley is in Phase 1 (up to July 2022)

Finding the resources to implement the programme of Conservation Area Appraisals is challenging.  However, it does offer an exciting opportunity to harness the enthusiasm and knowledge of local communities and local amenity groups.

Local communities and groups have become more and more involved in identifying what is positive and negative about a conservation area, including helping to identify unlisted buildings of local historic and architectural merit.

The Council values this specialist knowledge and greatly supports working together to produce Conservation Area Appraisals.  To this end, the Council, in partnership with the West Berkshire Heritage Forum, is currently putting together a training package for community-led Conservation Area Appraisals.  This package/toolkit will include group training, site survey tools, a list of helpful resources, a conservation area appraisal template, and specialist conservation input; all designed to help local groups review the character of their local areas.

The process will provide local communities with an understanding of how and why conservation area status is appraised, designated, and applied in future development and conservation management decisions. This will help communities better engage with the management of change in their area, allowing them to more effectively champion the significance and values of local heritage. Further, the training will help to provide skills in recording local heritage assets, and to identify issues and opportunities associated to key areas including housing, economy, amenity and recreation.

There are many benefits of taking part in this process, including:

  • Gaining a greater understanding of the history and development of your local area.
  • Being able to look at your surroundings from a different perspective and notice things you had not noticed before.
  • Ability to identify local heritage assets and positive contributions, and how to articulate their inherent heritage value.
  • Helping to steer development in a positive direction, responding to local characteristics and heritage assets through informed design.
  • Highlighting opportunities for change and environmental enhancement.
  • Identifying negative contributions and detrimental factors for change affecting the local environment, both directly and indirectly pertaining to heritage.
  • Promoting the relevance of the historic environment to a broad range of local agendas, from including economy, natural environment, access and recreation, and infrastructure.
  • Promoting development which capitalises on local heritage in positive ways – attracting investment of both time and resources into the area’s economic and social future.
  • Alleviating processes of incremental change detrimental to an area.
  • A means by which the concerns and aspirations of the local community for both local heritage, and the local area as a whole, can be articulated.

The training and support offered by the Council and the West Berkshire Heritage Forum will help local groups start the process of reviewing their area.  This can then be used to form the basis for a Conservation Area Appraisal, a template for which will be available to all groups. 

Local working groups can be formed to review a specific area, either an already designated conservation area, or an area that is considered to be of special historic or architectural interest but has not yet been designated. 

During the process the Council, in partnership with the West Berkshire Heritage Forum, will be available to work with the groups, and provide the resources necessary, such as information, OS maps, specialist conservation input, and help in drafting the appraisals.

Officers from Conservation and Planning Policy will review the draft appraisals to provide technical input and edits that help ensure consistency of approach across the district.

Full details, including links to the toolkit, resources, and other sources of information, will be available on the Council’s website in due course, however things have been delayed with Covid-19 and we will look to persue this further as soon as it is safe to do so.

This approach is used by many local authorities across the country and has produced some excellent Conservation Area Appraisals.

A flyer can be downloaded with more information here: Community involvment in the production of Conservation Area Appraisals