Conservation and Heritage Statements

Liz Humble


  The facade of Acklam Hall: red brick with sandstone dressings
  A conservation management plan for Acklam Hall (late 17th century, Grade I) has guided the building’s owner, Middlesbrough Council, in the future development of the hall and surrounding parkland.

Conservation of our historic places does not mean preventing all change, preserving a place as if frozen in time. Nor is conservation about restoring a place to how it appeared at one period in time. Implicit in the term conservation is an acceptance of appropriate change as society’s requirements for buildings or places alter over the years.

Conservation and heritage statements enable the significance and special character of historic places to be understood and consequently retained in a sustainable way as they continue to evolve.

This objective is recognised in England in the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which defines conservation as the ‘process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains, and where appropriate, enhances its significance’. This ethos and approach to the process of conservation is shared by most statutory bodies across the UK.

This article considers the most commonly prepared heritage documents for historic buildings: conservation management plans, conservation statements and heritage statements. Depending on the nature of the site, other specialist reports (on structural stability, archaeology, ecology, etc) may also be required as part of the process of managing change and applying for the necessary permissions and consents.


Conservation and heritage statements play an important role in the dynamic process of conservation across the UK and they are drawn up for a number of reasons. They can be a requirement of the planning system, a condition of accessing funding streams or an integral part of the management of large estates.

Polychrome painted cherub framed by elaborately patterned plasterwork  
Plaster ceiling at Acklam Hall  

Conservation management plans are a requirement of Round 2 Heritage Lottery Fund applications for Heritage Grants or Heritage Enterprise programmes for projects involving capital works of £2 million or more. Major custodians such as the National Trust, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw and government departments also tend to commission or prepare conservation management plans to inform the management of their properties.

Conservation statements and management plans can be used to guide a development project, to assess the impact of existing or future projects on the significance identified, and to prepare detailed, costed management proposals.

For large estates it is often beneficial to prepare an overall ‘framework’ conservation management plan. This allows for bespoke heritage statements to be prepared in response to proposals for individual buildings or components, as development projects come forwards.

In contrast, heritage statements tend to be less detailed reports that are produced to support applications for planning permission and listed building or scheduled monument consent.

This is set out in statutory planning guidance and policy by each of the home nations, as well as in the British Standard, Guide to the conservation of historic buildings. Paragraph 4.1 of BS7913:2013 states that:

Research and appraisal into the heritage values and significance of the historic building should be carried out to ensure that decisions resulting in change are informed by a thorough understanding of them. The level of the research appropriate is dependent on the nature and history of the historic building (for example, any statutory protection) and any proposed works.

Together these plans and statements are a vital part in the management of historic places, ensuring that the history, development, character and significance of our heritage assets is understood, and enabling well informed proposals for new work, alterations, repairs or demolition.


The origins and development of our system of legislative control and statutory guidance have been expertly summarised elsewhere, for example in Nicholas Doggett’s and Stuart Eydmann’s article in the 2007 edition of The Building Conservation Directory (see Recommended Reading). Given the speed of recent changes it is, however, worth briefly summarising the principal changes to the system of heritage protection since 2007 as they apply to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since this underpins the process of managing change within our historic environment.

The secular heritage protection and control system for the devolved nations runs along closely parallel lines with a shared ethos, albeit with some differences in detail. The penalties for carrying out unauthorised work (which is a criminal offence) can be severe. The legislation remains unchanged since 2007, although the anticipated draft Heritage Bill is expected to be passed into law by the Welsh Assembly in 2015. Policy guidance for England supporting the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 has been updated with the National Planning Policy Framework (2012) and the accompanying Planning Practice Guidance (2014). In Scotland the renewed policy guidance is currently contained within the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (2011).

Historic England (the new name for the protection arm of English Heritage), Cadw, Historic Scotland and the Department of the Environment – the statutory advisors in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively – provide additional guidance. The various national amenity societies are also statutory consultees.






Conservation management



Detailed guidance
with policies and
action plans

• Ongoing management of
complex heritage assets
• Required for HLF grants >£2m

Conservation statements


detailed where

Similar to above, suitable for less complex sites or where no major development is envisaged


detailed where

Focus on impact of specific proposals
on the heritage

One-off requirement for:
• LBC and SMC applications
• Planning applications affecting designated heritage assets or
demolition of non-designated heritage assets



Conservation management plans first became popular in Australia, where they were developed by the National Trust for New South Wales in 1982 in response to the Burra Charter (see Recommended Reading entries for James Semple Kerr and Kate Clark). However, they did not become common in the UK until 1996 when the Heritage Lottery Fund made them a requirement of lottery grant aid.

Conservation management plans are a very useful tool for sustaining and managing heritage assets. Indeed they ought to be the starting point for the management of any complex historic site, building or landscape. The holistic approach to different types of significance embedded in these documents is particularly suited to large sites with multiple management challenges and opportunities, and various aspects of cultural importance.

Conservation management plans provide owners and decision-makers with a balanced framework which summarises the context, including both practical issues and heritage aspects, and contains policies to safely steer owners, managers and developers away from the temptation of convenience at the expense of the heritage values (see Glossary) that contribute to the site’s significance.

Following a description of the heritage asset and what is known about its origins, history and management, the heart of these documents is the assessment of significance and the agreement of conservation management policies to ensure that this is not diminished through the process of future change.

Conservation statements also follow this significance-driven approach and can be a cost-effective solution for less complicated sites or where there are no major development proposals. Unlike conservation management plans, conservation statements only briefly consider the current challenges affecting significance and the potential opportunities at a site. Moreover, they rarely include the detailed formulation of conservation management policies that provide the conservation framework.

Conservation statements can therefore allow for a greater degree of flexibility when considering future options, as rigorous conservation management policies are neither appropriate nor especially useful for buildings where future uses are uncertain. Rigid policies may result in limitations that would severely hinder design creativity and options for viable reuse and stifle potential solutions..

  Terracotta frieze incorporating Irish national crest
  Terracotta detailing to the facade of Lincoln Constitutional Club (1895, Grade II): a conservation statement guided proposals for development of this vacant site, which had fallen into very poor condition.

As a management tool, both conservation management plans and conservation statements are living documents that should be revisited as required. It is particularly important that they are updated following the implementation of any development proposals to ensure that they remain relevant, accurate and effective

Often the most successful major projects are those where a conservation management plan is commissioned at the outset, providing the strategic background understanding of a place before informing forward planning and master planning exercises.

One commonly encountered pitfall occurs when conservation management plans are commissioned too late in the process and are expected to meekly support projects that may be unsuitable.

Another problem is that conservation statements and management plans are often seen as one-off documents and do not form part of the sustainable management strategy of a site.

Two recent conservation management plans serve to illustrate the range of challenges and opportunities presented by different sites. The late 17th-century Acklam Hall (Grade I) is set in designed parkland that includes a scheduled medieval fishpond. The occupant, Middlesbrough College, was intending to relocate and the report was prepared to guide the owners, Middlesbrough Council, with respect to the future development of the hall and parkland.

In comparison, at the 19th-century Ripon Workhouse Museum (Grade II) the report focussed on the architectural and social significance of the site, which had been occupied by a poorhouse since 1776. Of particular interest are the 1874 vagrants’ cellblock and dormitory. The conservation management plan identified issues that have the potential to determine the way in which the site is managed and the plan provided invaluable information for the museum’s extension into additional buildings that were previously part of the workhouse.

On a smaller scale, a conservation statement at Lincoln Constitutional (Conservative) Club guided proposals for development of this vacant site, which had fallen into very poor condition. Built in 1895, this is a Grade II listed building in Lincoln’s conservation area. It is now a successful restaurant, bar, nightclub and events venue.

The most successful projects are those that objectively consider the needs of a place and engage the expertise and enthusiasm of multiple stakeholder groups. This ensures that local expertise informs the process and that a consensus is achieved with dedicated personnel, supportive of the plan, in place to implement the recommendations and guide change over the long term.


In contrast to conservation statements and plans, which typically shape decisions at an early stage, heritage statements (also called heritage impact assessments) respond to development proposals. They incorporate a brief summary of a site’s historical development and a description of its current character, state of preservation and significance and then assess the likely impact of a proposed development on the significance identified.

They are typically most effective when the heritage specialists, conservation architects or planners involved liaise closely with the project architect and owner and provide independent objective advice as early in the process as possible and certainly before a scheme is finalised on paper.

A heritage statement must be submitted with any application for listed building consent, scheduled monument consent or any application for planning permission involving:

  • designated heritage assets such as a conservation area, world heritage site, registered battlefield or registered historic park and garden
  • demolition or construction of a new building within the curtilage of a listed building or scheduled monument
  • demolition of a nondesignated heritage asset
  • known archaeological sites.

A well-prepared heritage statement can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a proposal. In the case of an electricity sub-station at Arlington Road, London a proposal to convert the building to provide 21 apartments was refused consent. The building is located within, and makes a positive contribution to, the Camden Town Conservation Area. While the council accepted the principle of residential use, it was concerned about the impact of a rooftop addition and the design of a prominent rear elevation. A heritage statement was subsequently prepared to assess the impact of the proposal. On appeal, the inspector concurred with this new evidence and concluded that the proposal would preserve the appearance and enhance the character of the conservation area.

Lawn, flower borders and evergreen trees with red-brick and white rendered buildings in background  
A heritage statement for St John’s College, Durham (early 18th century, Grade II/II*) formed part of a successful application to secure planning permission and listed building consent for the erection of two accommodation blocks on this sensitive site inside a conservation area and adjacent to the Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site.  

A heritage statement for St John’s College, Durham formed part of successful applications to secure planning permission and listed building consent for the erection of two accommodation blocks for students.

This sensitive site, which forms part of the rear gardens of Grade II listed buildings along South Bailey, lies adjacent to the Grade I listed Durham Castle walls and the world heritage site, and is located within the Durham Conservation Area.

This context imposed a number of constraints on the design of the proposed buildings. In particular, there was a need to respect the scale, pattern and hierarchy of the existing built form and castle walls. Furthermore, the impact of the development, sitting on the edge of a plateau above the River Wear, needed to be considered in important views from the south and east.

All these factors were relevant to the preservation of the character and appearance of the Durham Conservation Area and the setting of the Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site.

In the UK there over 460,000 listed buildings, almost 34,000 scheduled monuments, over 11,000 conservation areas as well as numerous registered historic parks and gardens, registered historic battlefields, designated wrecks and world heritage sites. Only a minority of these will require conservation management plans, but every historic site facing development works needs some form of heritage appraisal in order to inform sensitive management and change.

Flexibility in approach is critical to success, as each report must be tailored to the needs of the site and its owner and should respond to practical constraints such as the available budget, the timescale and the nature and scale of the site and proposed conservation or development works. The current system of heritage protection was never intended as a permanent barrier to change: its aim is to ensure that change is positive and responds sensitively to the special interest of our collective historic environment. Conservation and heritage statements are often crucial to achieving positive outcomes.


Recommended Reading

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 (England, Wales and Scotland)

K Clark, Informed Conservation: Understanding Historic Buildings and Their Landscapes for Conservation, English Heritage, 2001

K Clark, Conservation Plans in Action: Proceedings of the Oxford Conference, English Heritage, 1999

N Doggett and S Eydmann, ‘Heritage Protection in Britain’, The Building Conservation Directory, Cathedral Communications Ltd, Tisbury, 2007

English Heritage, Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment, London, 2008

C Mynors, Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas & Monuments, 4th Edition, Sweet & Maxwell, London, 2006

J Semple Kerr, The Conservation Plan, 7th Edition, Australia ICOMOS, 2013


The following definitions are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework or, in the case of heritage values, in English Heritage’s Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance:

CONSERVATION (FOR HERITAGE POLICY) The process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and, where appropriate, enhances its significance.

HERITAGE ASSET A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).

HERITAGE VALUES Aspects of worth or importance that have been attached to places Significance (for heritage policy) The value of a heritage asset to this and future generations because of its heritage interest. That interest may be archaeological, architectural, artistic or historic. Significance derives not only from a heritage asset’s physical presence, but also from its setting.



The Building Conservation Directory, 2015


LIZ HUMBLE is the principal at Humble Heritage. In addition to preparing conservation and heritage statements, she is consultant archaeologist to Ripon and Sheffield cathedrals. The projects described in this article were undertaken by Woodhall Planning and Conservation.

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