With the lion’s share of England’s historic buildings here, you can boost cultural value easily, says Andrew Vines
One quarter of all England’s listed buildings, and one third of its scheduled monuments, are in the South West. History is rich in these parts. It’s woven into the fabric of society and it’s part of our everyday. Collectively it presents a litany of almost every construction material used through the ages.
So in a time of change, what’s the future for all this past? The government puts an emphasis on making great places, and with good reason. The historic environment is at the core of our towns and cities cultural quality, and we’ve made huge strides in some of our urban environments in recent decades. Oft-quoted examples such as Plymouth’s Royal William Yard and Exeter Princesshay have led the way where others follow, and we can look forward to creative developments in the likes of Swindon’s Carriage Works conversion, quayside development at Hayle, and Tiverton Riverside, to name but three.
In the past, the ‘style’ debate has polarised opinion from Poundbury to Bath and a few places in between. Honest contemporary next to slavish pastiche can be a touch disorientating if, like me, you navigate the world by architecture. Are we at last reaching a consensus on style? Modern interventions which keep the significance of historic sites and provide a sustainable future should help diffuse the debate.
But challenges lie ahead. There’s no shortage of crystal balls predicting the market’s response to seismic retail change in our commercial centres. Historic England’s Heritage Action Zones, led by local needs, are here to help. In Weston-super-Mare we are using our skills and resources to help ensure the town’s heritage plays a part in its regeneration.
Exciting times. So let us approach design opportunities with inspiration and creativity – and respect (humility even) for what’s there. That way we will help develop the cultural value of the South West’s places, and the wellbeing of its communities. After all, it’s just good design; and good town planning.
Andrew Vines is planning director for Historic England in the South West
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