Townscape change and local planning management in city centre conservation areas: the example of Birmingham and Bristol

Barrett , Heather Joy (1996). Townscape change and local planning management in city centre conservation areas: the example of Birmingham and Bristol. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The thesis considers townscape change and the operation of conservation policies within two city centre conservation areas in Birmingham and Bristol during the 1970s and 1980s. The study combines character assessment of the two areas, from an urban morphogenetic perspective, and micro-scale examination of local authority planning application data to consider the impact of conservation management.

Utilising the concepts and terminology developed by M.R.G. Conzen for the analysis of the townscape, the study identifies distinct units of townscape within the conservation areas. The use of an historical basis for conservation area character exposes the arbitrary nature of many conservation area boundaries, enclosing clusters of listed buildings rather than coherent areas of townscape. This approach also exposes the static nature of area character assessments based on architecture alone. These assessments provide an inflexible basis for character preservation and enhancement, one which under-values minor commercial and industrial heritage.

While the influence of national economic trends, planning policies and architectural fashions produced a similar trajectory of conservation policy development in both areas, important local differences existed. Differences in the local office market and the extent of building listing produced contrasts in the 'success' of conservation policies. The high percentage of listed buildings in Bristol produced greater success in policy development and application than in Birmingham, by providing greater access to grant funds and the strength to sustain refusals at appeal. Consequently, in Bristol, contextual styles were used exclusively for new building from the mid-1970s onwards, and redevelopment using façadism was limited. This also aided the development of landscaping and building enhancement schemes, helping to tackle the erosion of character through minor change. In Birmingham, amid a pro-business climate and with limited listing of the Victorian fabric, the transition to contextual styles was more muted and façadism remained a key option for new commercial development. These circumstances also delayed and limited the development of enhancement strategies until the mid-1980s.

In the late-1980s, rising commercial pressures exposed the weaknesses of conservation control in both areas. Limitations to their character assessments reduced the ability of the two areas to resist trends towards universal historicist styles for new building, and the use of standard 'corporate-heritage' elements for building interiors and exteriors. The lack of extra control offered by area designation for the regulation of interior and functional change reduced the ability of the local authorities to monitor and control the micro-scale processes of change, leading to further character erosion.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Department of Geography
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races


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