Re-Using Historic Buildings - A Planning Perspective

Victoria Road, Widnes - Past
Victoria Road, Widnes - Past
Project date
  • Lecture
  • Retrofit
Empty Homes Agency
Associated team members
Associated documents

URBED regeneration planner Jonathan Brown was invited to address the 6th Annual Old Buildings Conference in London in 2008, sharing the platform with Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics, Will Palin of SAVE Britain's Heritage, and David Ireland of the Empty Homes Agency.

The subject was 'Challenging Planning to Support Re-Use of Historic Buildings'.  This ongoing debate revolves around the need to embed high environmental standards, not only in new buildings, which only ever form a small proportion of total accommodation, but in the 'historic' stock that makes up the vast majority of our built environment.

JB's presentation is in three sections.

  • 1. The nature of the challenge;
  • 2. The opportunity;
  • 3. Responses.

Key messages are: the need for planning policy to capture the cultural value of all reasonably successful established townscapes, i.e. not just conservation areas or listed buildings, but classic 'pre-1919' terraced neighbourhoods and our invincible green suburbs; and the need for planning to incentivise market led 'retro-fitting'.

Measures in the planner's armoury include:

  • Area wide characterisation surveys, to evidence how 'ordinary' streets and buildings often form part of coherent wider development patterns, and thus warrant policy protection from thoughtless demolition.
  • Use of Local Development Orders (introduced with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004) to allow modernisation measures like solar panels, combined heat and power (CHP) or external insulation to be applied over wider areas via simplified procedures.
  • Active enforcement to bring neglected buildings back into use - little known regulations like Section 115 Orders (Town and Country Planning Act 1990), and PRODs (Public Request to Order Disposal under the 1980 Local Government Planning and Land Act), can be used as 'sticks' to chivvy negligent owners.
  • Rewards for responsible ownership - part of this comes through ongoing public engagement and publicity that brings kudos for sophisticated schemes; this might involve liasion with local press and community groups to encourage re-use of buildings rather than replacement, civic awards or assistance in the form of advice and finance.

Some website that may be of interest:

Project blog