Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Yes, we have old coconuts – new pathways into heritage
The shortage of planners is much written about, but less has been said about the acute problems experienced in the heritage sector where a growing demand for heritage professionals outstrips supply. The problems stem from an ageing workforce, an insufficient number of heritage and conservation professionals entering the profession, and the migration of staff from public to private practice. The problems manifest in many local authorities unable to fulfil their duties adding to the wider problems experienced in delays in plan-making and decision-taking in the planning system. This position is borne out clearly by the statistics. Historic England surveys local planning authorities on the numbers of specialist heritage professionals. Between 2006 and 2018, the number of conservation specialists, and archaeological specialists both fell by a massive 35% - the most recent survey numbers suggest this trend is continuing.[1] This is complicated by the lack of funding, which has resulted in the steady decline of planning-related support roles overall. This is also not a complete picture however, as the private sector is not captured in these statistics. A dwindling resource and skills base in the public sector is probably being exacerbated by growth in the private sector as consultancies, like mine, see an increase in demand for such services. Historic England has taken a further foray into education, outside of the professional training and CPD sessions they already provide, by developing a wholly new pathway into the industry. This has taken the form of the Historic Environment Advice Assistant level 4 apprenticeship. I am part of only the second cohort to undertake the course. It is a trailblazer new apprenticeship developed in conjunction with several heritage bodies including the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and the Institute for Historic Buildings and Conservation. The course is being delivered jointly by Historic England and Strode College, in Somerset. The purpose of the course is to develop a pathway into the profession by opening it up to those without access to further education or encouraging those in other professions to retrain or upskill. As such, there are varying levels of experience, qualifications and a variety of backgrounds on the course. The majority on the course are at the beginning of their careers using the apprenticeship to gain direct experience in heritage, where they have no prior background. There are some however who are in later stages of their careers, looking to retrain or bolster their heritage credentials. I am in the former group – I have a postgraduate qualification in history, but prior to beginning my role and this apprenticeship, I had limited direct experience of heritage and conservation. Those on the course are almost entirely in the public and charity sectors (including a large contingent from Historic England), with me being the only one from the private sector. Businesses providing professional services may be reticent to hiring apprentices, or perhaps there is a lack of awareness given this course is very new. There are only nine of us in my cohort so the course must grow to make a real difference to the profession as a whole. To grow to achieve its aim of increasing pathways into heritage, it will require getting the private sector far more involved. This would necessitate the course marketing itself to businesses on how it would enhance the value of their early career employees either for aspiring heritage specialists or planners or surveyors with an interest in working with heritage assets. This should be quite easy - the course fees can be funded from payments from the Apprenticeship Levy, so for companies who pay the levy the only costs are expenses associated with attending eight study weeks in college and on-site; and the opportunity costs of time not spent on client work. My company has already found that the skill and productivity benefits arising from my upskilling more than outweigh those costs. Historic England should be applauded for developing this new and innovative pathway and I will be an advocate for the course once I have completed it in the summer. The development of the course is a big step in the right direction for the heritage sector, but it is certainly not a panacea. The answer to resourcing must be multi-faceted, from enhancing pathways into the industry to marketing the interesting and challenging work there is to be done to a much wider talent pool; to staking its claim for improved funding and greater sharing of knowledge and available resources at local levels. Picture: A coursemate and I holding some coconuts found amongst the Rooswijk shipwreck, a Dutch East India Company vessel which sank off the coast of Kent in the 18th century. The coconuts may have been from another vessel but could be well over 250 years old! The course visited the Historic England Fort Cumberland research centre earlier this year to learn about the Rooswijk and various heritage research technologies. [1] Report on Local Authority Historic Environment Staff Resources 2020, Series 2 Issue 1, Produced by Historic England, Place Services at Essex County Council and the Associated of Local Government Archaeological Officers, August 2021.


Historic Opportunities: How heritage-led regeneration can drive town centre change
Our historic high streets and town centres have been dominated for decades by retail uses, and while retailing is still an integral part of what they offer, the pressures facing traditional retail have resulted in the average vacancy rate nationally rising to just under 14%. This has left many high streets and town centres in need of regeneration and investment. Fortunately, they have huge potential for improvement, adaptation and reuse, and many benefit from heritage assets that can serve as focal points for regeneration.  Historically, high streets and town centres were places where communities would live, congregate, learn and work, not just shop. They were built to support a diverse range of uses and they are very well positioned to do the same in future if investments are made in restoration and reuse. Indeed, repurposing redundant floorspace offers exciting opportunities to rebalance what our high streets and town centres have to offer. It appears that things are about to come full circle as the high streets of the future, as envisaged by Government, are places where more people live and work and where community uses are more prominent, as was the case in the past. The Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda is primed to support this vision with significant amounts of funding, which could result in some of the most positive changes to our town centres seen in generations.  In July, Lichfields published ‘Moving on up?’, an Insight that reviewed the initiatives for levelling-up of town centres in the north of England. It analysed over 100 bids to three key funding streams aimed at achieving town centre regeneration, including the £3.6bn Towns Fund, the £1bn Future High Streets Fund (of which £95m is set aside for High Street Heritage Action Zones) and most recently the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund. This revealed six key themes underpinning these bids; unsurprisingly heritage-led regeneration was one of them. To understand why there is such interest in heritage-led regeneration in our town centres, it is worth noting that almost half of buildings in retail use and 33% of office buildings were built before 1919. Many of these buildings have been neglected or poorly adapted in response to various cycles of economic and social change. The idea behind heritage-led regeneration is that targeted investment in the restoration and reuse of heritage assets can deliver wider economic and social benefits. This is not a new-fangled idea, but the way that heritage-led regeneration is being implemented has evolved over time and is now far more complex and multi-layered.  For many years there was a tendency to think that simply restoring historic buildings and providing new shopfronts and usable floorspace would be enough to deliver regeneration and attract new occupiers, despite there being little empirical evidence to support that assumption. Now, following studies into the effectiveness of heritage-led regeneration projects, such projects are increasingly based on clearer business and investment strategies and form an embedded part of wider programmes aimed at improving local economies through investment in infrastructure, new industries and technologies. Embedding heritage-led regeneration in this way can both harness heritage investment’s potential to inspire action and promote initiatives, as well ensure that it produces more effective, sustainable and long-lasting regeneration results. Heritage-led regeneration projects are also focused more than ever on reusing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to changes in the way that people live, work and shop. For the high street, this means adapting historic buildings to respond to changes in retail and growing demand for leisure activities, creative and flexible workspaces, and housing in sustainable and accessible locations. It is also about bringing the history of places to the surface, engaging communities in heritage projects and enhancing places with the aim of attracting new businesses, visitors and residents.  The role of heritage-led regeneration in reimagining and repurposing our high streets for the future is reflected in the literature produced around the latest rounds of Government funding aimed at levelling-up towns across the country. Lichfields has been at the forefront of Government funding activity in the north of England, inputting into various Towns Fund bids. We were involved in preparing the Future High Streets Fund bid for Bishop Auckland and we are currently involved in supporting the development of several potential Levelling-Up Fund bids. We have also been appointed to develop business cases for schemes in Blyth, which have secured in principle funding from the Towns Fund. Bringing together our combined expertise in planning, heritage and economics, Lichfields is well placed to assist with high street and town centre regeneration in a variety of ways, including navigating the planning policies that cover heritage-related works, developing evidence-based investment strategies and business cases, and preparing Statements of Significance, Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans. Lichfields’ Insight, ‘Historic Opportunities’ aims to shed light on the environmental, economic and social contributions that heritage-led regeneration can make. It looks at how this is being achieved across the country in areas benefitting from the various funding streams designed to support the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda.