STREETS AHEAD! Peterborough and Cambridge highlighted for improving historic areas in new guide

Helping to protect and revitalise historic conservation areas has earned praise for Cambridge and Peterborough in a good practice guide published today, 31 January, by English Heritage.
The publication – Valuing Places: Good Practice in Conservation Areas – says that many conservation areas in England are benefiting from the voluntary efforts of local people, working closely with local councils and supported by English Heritage.
Cambridge and Peterborough are both singled out as making dramatic improvements to their historic neighbourhoods, providing other areas with a benchmark of success.
Recent figures from English Heritage suggest that around 70% of the region’s conservation areas do not have an up-to-date character appraisal – an essential step in developing management plans which are vital if communities are going to use their historic character as a basis for regeneration.
Greg Luton, English Heritage Regional Director, said: 

“The report aims to inspire councils, civic societies and community groups to replicate the methods and success achieved by others, as highlighted in a series of powerful case studies. Conservation areas offer a golden opportunity for people to take heritage into their own hands and to decide what they value and how they want to protect and enhance it. These are places where people live, work and play – whether or not they are well cared for has an impact on our quality of life.”
Christ’s Lane, in Cambridge, passes beside the Grade I listed Christ’s College, part of the city’s central conservation area. The lane was an ancient passageway which had been blocked off in the 1960s and turned into an ugly service yard for a post-war shopping arcade.  In 1996 it was identified as a site for redevelopment including a plan to open up the old pathway.  The resulting development, which includes shops and a restaurant below 15 luxury apartments, has reinvigorated the city’s historic street pattern and made a better through route to the bus station and the green space of Christ’s Pieces. The scheme has been singled out for the way in which it responds well to the grain, scale and materials of the conservation area.

Peter Studdert, Director of Joint Planning for Cambridge City and South Cambs District Councils, said:
“This is an inspirational example of how sympathetic contemporary design using high quality materials can enhance and enliven the historic environment.”

Despite having a magnificent cathedral Peterborough is for many people a New Town, a creation of the 1960s. In fact its city-centre conservation area contains many fine historic buildings but, owing to insensitive new build and a lack of clarity in the public realm, it lacked focus.  The creation of an urban regeneration company, Opportunity Peterborough, in 2005 led to the search for a project that would re-focus the city.  Cathedral Square, with its historic market place and buildings of many eras in the shadow of the cathedral, was selected.  The resulting project has resulted in the development of the square into a setting of which Peterborough’s residents can be proud – the square was repaved with natural stone, and new street furniture and water features installed.  The 1960s brutalist Corn Exchange building was demolished, expanding the public space and revealing new views of the parish church of St John the Baptist, proving that selective demolition of buildings that detract from their surroundings, can transform a conservation area.

Steve Bowyer, Head of Economic Development at Opportunity Peterborough, said:

“The aim for Cathedral Square was to revitalise the public space and its historic buildings, reaffirming its status as the commercial and cultural heart of Peterborough. In achieving this, the conservation area and the city’s heritage have become a real economic driver for the city.”

The guide advocates a three-step process to improving conservation areas, underpinned by the need to gain and maintain popular support:

  • get general agreement on what elements of the conservation area are architecturally or historically significant;
  • find ways of protecting these while providing guidance on how less important elements can be adapted or replaced to meet society’s changing needs; and
  • ensure that new buildings and changes reinforce local character rather than detract from it.

For a copy of Valuing Places: Good Practice in Conservation Areas you can download a pdf from here or contact Customer Services Tel: 0870 333 1181 
For general advice on every aspect of caring for a conservation area, ask Customer Services for a copy of English Heritage’s Conservation Areas at Risk booklet or download  a pdf from the website.