The Manor Waste Conservation Area
I have taken a little time to look into the advice, legal requirements and guidelines which inform decision-making regarding enhancements to Conservation Areas.
Historic England produced an excellent updated Advice Note in February of this year. This talks about appraisal and management of Conservation Areas by Local Authorities. The appraisal must consider threats to and opportunities for Conservation Areas and findings should be developed into a Management Plan. In 2011, Aylesbury Vale District Council produced an Appraisal of all their designated Conservation Areas and this included the Manor Waste. It is available on their website.
Under Section 71 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 the Local Authority (Aylesbury Vale) has a duty to draw up and publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of Conservation Areas. It is also a requirement that the Local Authority submits proposals to a Public Meeting. The Historic England Advice Note suggests there are major advantages, particularly in gaining public support, by encouraging owners, residents’ groups, amenity groups, business and community organisations to discuss the issues facing the Area and how these might be addressed. Management Plans, like Appraisals, which are drawn up without effective consultation are likely to be be misunderstood and ineffective.
The Advice Note also states that:
“Enhancement schemes can be achieved by sympathetic landscaping and planting, and the retention of features of local interest to maintain local character” and also that: “Proposals for conservation and enhancement will be most effective when all Departments within the Local Authority understand the significance of designation and work corporately to ensure that development decisions respect historic content”.
I note that the Parish Council now feel that its proposals were not sufficiently open to public scrutiny but I would also argue that Aylesbury Vale have been lacking in their involvement in this process too. It is certainly not acceptable that changes have been made to the paving, seating and planting without a Management Plan being consulted upon or produced. It is also unacceptable that only construction plans seem to have been available and no alternative samples of heritage paving, design details, detailed artistic drawings of the finished area, or possible seating options and planting schemes were made available to the public. Were any options presented for comment and debate at a public consultation meeting?
Of further concern is the statement contained in the Aylesbury Vale Appraisal of the Manor Waste:
“The Manor Waste itself is paved in a variety of slabs, setts and cobbles and is attractive and well maintained”.
There is not a single adverse comment on the surface of the Manor Waste. There are comments on too much signage, too many advertising A boards and too much clutter. The Appraisal recommends a street furniture and signage audit and a de-cluttering plan.
In a Conservation Area, it is important to retain the character of the area. This is a fundamental aim of designating an area as a Conservation Area. It is not necessary to replace sound, attractive, paving if new paving is detrimental to the area and any problems regarding people traversing the area safely could easily have been resolved by the installation of wider paths constructed in a high quality heritage paver in keeping with the listed buildings and local construction materials. This would have been considerably cheaper and would have enhanced the Conservation Area. It is not necessary for Conservation Areas to be totally flat and urbanised and neither is it desirable. The pavers and the new seats are designed for an urban environment and are only suitable for use in a modern concrete and glass environment or with modern wood/metal cladding. Frankly, the pavers are not acceptable anywhere! They are definitely not acceptable in a Conservation Area surrounded by many historic and listed buildings, some dating from the 16th century.
As the Appraisal of the Manor Waste found nothing wrong with the slabs, setts and cobbles, why was such a draconian, expensive and ruinous scheme carried out? What landscape design consultants were used and what understanding and knowledge did they have of the Appraisal, advice from Historic England or the historic centre of Wendover? Where is the Management and De-Cluttering Plan for the Manor Waste? What happened to any form of effective consultation and involvement of local people and businesses? Not only did the people who designed and implemented this scheme have no concept of how to enhance a Conservation Area, they ignored all sound advice and have used totally inappropriate materials and landscaping furniture, none of which is recommended in the Historic England Advice Note.
The Parish and District Councillors need to address, urgently, how this scheme can be rectified. They also need to establish a De-cluttering Plan and a Management Plan. They need, above all, to understand the concept of a Conservation Area, how to manage it, and provide a meaningful public consultation where they provide precise details, with alternatives, so people can express a view based on information which can be readily interpreted. It is also a good idea to include examples of enhancements to other Conservation Areas in other towns and villages to see what “best practice” looks like.
We have been badly let down by people entrusted to be informed and diligent in their management of this Conservation Area. It is simply not good enough.