I’m out on site today, meeting with a client to look around a building at the start of a new consultancy project. It’s up in Highgate, which is always a great part of town to go and spend a bit of time in although it’s a shame it’s overcast so my site photos won’t look particularly good.
The site visit is the first stage of producing a Heritage Statement to accompany a planning application for the alteration of a mid-19th century townhouse including adding a rear extension. I’d say that maybe 75% of my work is on the alteration of Victorian townhouses and of those projects the vast majority are rear or basement extensions. Our role is to work for the client to try to spot where their plans might have an adverse impact on ‘heritage assets’ like listed buildings or conservation areas and then work with them to find ways that they can alter their designs to lessen those impacts or, where there are no adverse impacts, to provide full reasoning for that conclusion to assist the local authority in their decision on the planning application. In many cases (like my work today), contemporary developments are undoing the unsympathetic alterations of the recent past and are generally positive.
When I get to site, I’ll look over the building inside and out, taking note of the overall style and fabric and note any particularly interesting historic fixtures and features. With the assessment afterwards, I will write a description of the building then something called a ‘statement of significance’ where I explain what the heritage significance of the building is and what the specific aesthetic, historical, evidential and communal values are that add up to that significance (see Conservation Principles). The next stage will be to assess the proposed development in terms of what potential it has to impact on those values and, by extension, on the significance of the building, the settings of other nearby heritage assets or of conservation areas. That might sound like a lot of terminology – the term ‘heritage assets’ seems to really annoy archaeologists – but you have to write for your audience and in this case the audience for my report is the borough Conservation Officer and planning committee and those are the words they need to hear to be able to make a considered judgement on the application as it is the terminology of the planning guidance they will be working to.
Finally, if I conclude that the proposed development might have adverse impacts I can suggest mitigation. If it’s anything major, I would make the suggestion to the client and work to alter their proposal. If it’s smaller, I will in some cases suggest archaeological recording in advance of the work and if the Conservation Officer agrees it might become a condition added to the granting of planning permission.
So, for this Day of Archaeology, a pretty typical day really, but a walk around Highgate is always nice even if it is gloomy. I’ll be passing Trowelblazer (sort of) Mary Kingsley‘s blue plaque on my walk from the bus stop and last time I was working up that way I walked past Damien Lewis, Ashton Kucher and Kate Moss within a couple of hours of each other, I wonder who it’ll be today…