Conservation areas are defined as areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.
Preston has five conservation areas, one of which is the Harris Park Conservation Area. It is an important early example of the ‘village homes’ type orphanage pioneered by Dr Barnardo with individual domestic scale ‘family’ homes set within informally laid out landscaped grounds. It is now in private ownership and not accessible to the public.
The Council has a statutory duty to review its conservation areas every ten years. In 2007 the Council carried out an appraisal of this conservation area. Following on from that it issued a management plan in 2008. The two documents are here.
The management plan is full of promises. It states:-
At para. 3.1 that PCC will engage proactively with the new owner.
At para. 3.2, “regular inspections by officers will be carried out with the owners to identify potential problems”.
At para. 4.1.1 it is stated that PCC “will work with the new owner to develop a management agreement (Heritage Partnership Agreement or HPA) for the site covering the management of future change and maintenance of its buildings and landscape features. The single ownership of the site makes this achievable…”.
At para. 4.1.2 “The HPA will have statutory status and any breaches could be subject to enforcement”.
At para. 4.1.3 “The local authority will work with the owner to ensure that the street furniture, signage, lights and cctv is reviewed in line with the guidance provided by English Heritage in their policy document Streets for All”.
At para. 4.2.2 “The local authority will work with the new owner to secure the repair and/or full use of any buildings identified as unused/underused in the appraisal. Again the local authority will consider the need to use its statutory powers to ensure the repairs of any of these buildings if this is considered necessary”.
At para. 5.3.1, “The new owners and their professional team will need to develop a strategy for the management and protection of important trees, greenery and spaces as part of their management plan for the site”.
At para. 6.2, “As mentioned in paragraph 3.2 Preston City Council staff will visit on a regular basis and undertake dated photographic surveys and recording. It is expected that this will be every 12 months although if there are any particular concerns it may be more frequent”.
At para. 6.3, “In the event that Preston City Council is unable to negotiate with the owner to carry out the necessary repairs then it will carry out the urgent works itself after giving notice to the owner. The Secretary of State can also authorise the Council to carry out works to unlisted buildings which made a positive contribution to a conservation area where the preservation of which is important for maintaining the character and appearance of the area”.
Ten years later, in 2017 another draft appraisal was issued.
Consideration of the 2017 draft appraisal showed that none of the promises of the management plan had been carried out.
Following the issue of the 2017 draft appraisal, there was a consultation period during which residents could submit comments to the Council. During this consultation period, an open session was held at the Harris Museum at which the Council’s Conservation Officer, Diane Vaughton, was available to answer questions. Following that session the Council was asked for its records:-
“Further to my representation which I submitted to you electronically as part of your consultation exercise, can you please send me a copy of the Council’s complete records relating to this conservation area from the implementation of the Management Plan in 2008 until the completion of the consultation exercise on 1 September 2017. This request does not encompass the files relating to the planning applications for the conservation area which have been made during this period.”
The Council replied:-
“I have asked my colleagues about the monitoring of Harris Park since 2007 and it has been confirmed that Preston has monitored the site at least once a year since 2009, by virtue of carrying out a site visit for Historic England as part of their Heritage at Risk surveys Of England’s 336 local authorities.
“These surveys are not compulsory but are encouraged and it is a survey Preston city Council participates in. The purpose of the surveys are to help Historic England gain a clear picture of how these important places and areas are sustaining themselves. HE hold these surveys and are completed electronically. Here is a copy from HE’s website showing the surveys were completed every year since 2009.
Conservation Areas » Harris Children
|Reason Conservation Area is no longer at risk|
|2009||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2010||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2011||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2012||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2013||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2014||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2015||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2016||Yes||Not At Risk|
|2017||Yes||Not At Risk|
CA ever surveyed: Yes, 9 time(s)”
WIPCUT responded to this information by repeating the request for information that the Council held:-
“The link you have sent me takes me to a page of the HE website for which I need log in details and there is not even a link to register.
In any event, it is not, as my request made clear, the records of HE (from whatever primary source) which are of interest to me.
What I wish to see is all the records of PCC that came into existence following the implementation of the Management Plan in 2008…Please send them to me.”
No records have been disclosed by the Council, though the existence of records has been alluded to both in the table above and in further emails from the Council. The straightforward request to the Conservation Officer, Ms Vaughton was taken up by the Governance Officer, Mrs Ashcroft. One might well wonder why, since this has nothing to do with governance. The conclusion WIPCUT drew was that there were no records because the management plan had not been implemented. Or if it had records based upon an inspection (which is what the Council had told Historic England), why would the Council want to keep these a secret?
Anyway, these exchanges with the Council were overtaken by the Cabinet meeting on 8 November 2017 when the draft appraisal document was presented to the Cabinet by Councillor Peter Moss and approved by the Cabinet.
Following the Cabinet meeting another email was sent to Ms Vaughton.
“Councillor Moss, when presenting the appraisal document, specifically referred to the monitoring that Preston CC has been carrying out and it is these records that I want to see.”
The Council replied:-
“Further to previous emails I can advise you that the Council does not have any further records relating to the monitoring of the Harris Park Conservation Area over and above those which you have already been made aware of which formed part of the Council’s annual monitoring for Historic England’s heritage at risk surveys.” (23 November 2017)
WIPCUT’S reponse to this was:-
“I am not asking for “further records” – I have had none. What I would like to see is the PCC records that were relied upon by the Council when it submitted information to the Historic England, and in addition all records of PCC that came into existence following the implementation of the Management Plan in 2008.
These records will not include the 120 responses to the consultation in respect of the Conservation Area. This is because the Management Plan does not refer to a draft appraisal consultation – the Management Plan sets out all that PCC intended to do (and which it presumably has done) from 2008-2017 to ensure that the Conservation Area is maintained.
I look forward to receiving these records.” (15 December 2017)
By now you might well feel that WIPCUT was knocking its head against a brick wall. You are correct, for the Council’s response was:-
“I can advise you that an annual electronic survey is carried out of all the conservation areas in Preston including Harris Park.
The survey is formulated and sent out by Historic England to local planning authorities to be filled in and sent directly back to them.
It was considered that this annual survey combined with regular meetings with the owners about the future development of the site was enough to comply with the intentions of the management plan to monitor the condition of the site.”
So we know that:-
- the Council carries out an annual survey – it told Historic England this
- this survey is “electronic”
- the Council has “regular meetings with the owners about the future development of the site”
- these meetings were considered sufficient “to comply with the intentions [WIPCUT emphasis] of the management plan to monitor the condition of the site.”
Let us remind ourselves of the Council’s promises:-
- “Fairness at the heart of decision making”
- “Open and acceptable”
- “Doing the best we can for the people of Preston”
- “Value for money”
- “Ambitious, striving for EXCELLENCE in all that we do”
- “Act honestly and responsibly, being open and accessible to all”
- “Deliver value for money, ready to embrace change and innovation”
Yet despite these promises the Council:-
- Has apparently not implemented the management plan – the Council has only sought to comply with its intentions.
- Has records of it meetings with the owners but will not disclose them.
- Has carried out an electronic survey but will not disclose that. (What is an ‘electronic survey’? Street View or perhaps a drone, neither of which can in any way compare with a thorough physical on-site survey.)
- Most importantly of all, the Council has failed to fulfil its duty to preserve this conservation area – “…combined with regular meetings with the owners about the future development [WIPCUT emphasis] of the site…”. The Council is supposed to be conserving the Harris Park, not discussing its future development.
Since the conservation area fell into private ownership there have been planning applications submitted for the development of parts of it. But those applications have nothing to do with the preservation of the conservation area.
Further, it is questionable whether it is correct for the Council to tell Historic England that the conservation area is “not at risk”.
What is apparent from the 2017 draft appraisal is that the problems highlighted in the 2007 appraisal which the 2008 management plan would have rectified have merely worsened during the last ten years.
For example, the efflorescence on buildings described in para. 4.6.1 in 2007 appears at figure 20 on page 12 of the 2017 draft appraisal. The gardens are in decay. The buildings are described in 2017 at para. 5 in this way: “Many are in decline and are showing signs of water ingress and lack of maintenance”.
The 2017 draft states at para. 7 “The Council has a duty to maintain and monitor the condition of its conservation areas by way of preparing mid to long term strategies for preserving and enhancing their significance”. This is a re-statement of what is contained in the 2007 appraisal.
So Preston City Council should have fulfilled its duty rather than do no more than prepare documents and then do nothing.
Although the Council is apparently indifferent to the state and fate of the conservation area, the residents of Preston do care about it for there were 120 comments submitted by residents.
Despite the volume of comments submitted there were no substantive changes made to the draft appraisal before it was presented to and approved by the Cabinet in November 2017.
Let us now look at the involvement of the councillors. The conservation area is within the Greyfriars ward. There are three councillors for this ward. They are: David Hammond, Rowena Edmondson and Damien Moore (the last of whom resigned from the Council after becoming the MP for Southport but who was a councillor at the relevant time).
Do they share the concerns of the 120 residents? Apparently not. WIPCUT asked Councillor Moore to become involved during the consultation period and Councillors Hammond and Edmondson to become involved prior to the approval of the draft appraisal by the Cabinet. The full email exchanges are here but WIPCUT’S final email of 29/3/18 will suffice to demonstrate and confirm the inaction of all three councillors. It reads:-
“Further to our emails below, for the record, I believe the position to be that none of you:-
- Participated in the consultation for the draft appraisal.
- Lobbied the Cabinet before the meeting where the draft appraisal was approved.
- During your time in office since 2008, has had interaction with the Conservation Officer regarding the 2007 appraisal and the Management Plan of 2008.
If my belief is in any way incorrect please let me know how, otherwise there is no need to respond.”
None of them responded.
WHAT IS PRESTON COUNCIL UP TO?
So far as preserving this gem of Preston is concerned
The officers – Precious little – just telling Historic England that all is in order even though its appraisals of 2007 and 2017 tell a different tale.
The councillors – Nothing.