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Conservation Principles in Action

Managing Change to Historic Assets

As we care for our historic assets, we may need to make changes to them, but we need to do so in a way that protects their special qualities. In the case of nationally important historic assets consent may be needed for many kinds of change. But for all historic assets, there are general guidelines to follow when making changes which will help to protect their significance.

Planned routine management and maintenance is the foundation of good conservation. Regular inspection to check the condition of your historic asset and identify any repairs that may be needed is a good investment that can help prevent problems from escalating.

Even relatively minor repairs will have an impact on the significance of your historic asset, so it is important to make sure that they are designed to minimise harm. It is a good idea to understand the reasons why repair is needed, so that cause as well as symptom can be addressed. When designing repairs, the best conservation solution is likely to be the one that allows the maximum retention of significant original fabric. This may sometimes mean that the use of modern materials and techniques can be justified.

From time to time in the life of a historic asset, you may need to renew part of it:  you might need to replace a roof, for example, or replant parts of a historic garden. Renewal work is usually more drastic than repair and has a high visual impact, so it is important to be sure that there isn’t a more limited intervention that would also be effective. Renewal work may provide an opportunity to get a better understanding of the history and development of your historic asset, so including a programme of archaeological or building recording alongside the work may be a good idea.

Archaeological intervention can add to our understanding of historic assets, but can also be quite destructive. It may be justified by the gains in knowledge where preservation in situ is not an option. It is important to keep intervention to a minimum, and to make full use of non-destructive techniques. Archaeological intervention needs a skilled team with sufficient resources to carry out a project and see it through to completion, including making sure that the information is preserved in your local historic environment record.

Restoration involves the introduction of new work to recreate the lost parts of a historic asset. It can have a positive impact if it helps to improve the understanding, enjoyment or use of a historic asset, but it also risks compromising its evidential value by obscuring or removing evidence of previous chapters of its history. Restoration should always be supported by detailed evidence.

Alterations or additions will inevitably have an impact on the significance of your historic asset. Changes that are well designed and executed can sustain or even enhance its heritage values, and may bring regeneration benefits, but you must make sure that any harm is kept to a minimum.

Sustainable development means promoting economic, social and environmental well-being. Caring for the historic environment, and protecting the heritage values of our historic assets is an important part of how we do this. Sometimes, we need to make changes to historic assets to meet other environmental, social or economic objectives, such as energy efficiency or community sustainability. Whenever we propose change, we need to make sure that we keep harm to a minimum and that it is definitely offset by benefits to the wider community or society as a whole.

Enabling development is development that would be unacceptable in planning terms but for the fact that it brings public benefits that could not be achieved in any other way. The key benefit is securing a long-term future for important historic assets, but we must make sure that their heritage values really will be sustained, and that harm to other public interests is minimised. We need to manage enabling development very carefully through the planning process to make sure that the proposed benefits are realised.

You can find out more about putting conservation principles into action in Conservation Principles for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment in Wales.