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Shifting gear in the conservation movement

Image 2013.

How is the conservation movement doing today? Have the post-war campaigns

which correctly predicted the socio-economic benefits of saving areas such as Covent Garden, Parliament Square and Soho, along with thousands of buildings/areas across the UK, changed planning for the better?

Almost built proposals for Covent Garden (left) and Parliament Square (right).

James Woodward with PHD. Almost Lost' exhibition. English Heritage 2013/14

Progress clearly has been made. However if one looks at the number of campaigns being both won and lost across the country, we still appear to have a way to go before the predictive abilities of local communities and conservation bodies are understood. Ealing town centre is one such example where local knowledge, advice of specialists in local and national amenity societies and the recommendations of the government's own advisors are currently being ignored.

Over 90% of the UK's building stock currently has no protection against demolition, with no requirement for planners to assess the current and future potential ' value' of threatened buildings in socio- economic and environmental terms - for the local area or for cities as whole. The task faced by local residents who disagree with planners and developers is still therefore immense. However climate change legislation and new technologies have, over the coming years, the potential to offer support.

Owing to the introduction of waste and energy directives in Europe over the past 20 years focus of attention in the development arena is beginning to shift from new build towards refurbishment. This shift is reflected in London's housing figures, signalling that more developers are now having to assess older buildings' potential. Added to this is a growing interest in embedded values within the building stock, and in older buildings' contribution to city regeneration particularly in the context of diversity. Furthermore as the title of the World's Bank's 2012 publication 'The Economics of Uniqueness' indicates, as the number of cities grow, and global competition increases, the 'uniqueness' of a city's fabric - and what this brings with it- is being treated by investors with ever greater interest.

New quantitative research that uses new technologies to build on this changing climate will be carried out at The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) over the next three years. Our work will include the development of methodologies for the analysis of rates of demolition within UK cities, the collection of metadata relating to the building stock, and the construction of city evolution animations. We will also be analysing building age data for UK cities against a number of socio-economic indicators, and will be exploring whether conservation campaigners' knowledge (when coupled with machine learning) can produce accurate predictions of the geolocation of future demolition. For research outlines and future updates please refer to the Research Areas section of this site.

A short article on forthcoming research will be published in Historic England's 'Conservation Bulletin' in March 2016.

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