Written by Angie Creswick
When asked to contribute an article for this month’s newsletter I initially did not know where to start, so much had happened since I emerged from my dissertation bubble last January. But the more I thought about the year, despite several interwoven strands of opportunities and experiences, there has been one theme I can’t ignore. Whether it be the upheaval in UK and US politics or in our world of conservation and the historic environment, the IHBC got it right when they chose their summer school theme ‘People Power! – Catalyst for Change’.
Last autumn, whilst writing up my research, I joined the University of York Heritage Planning Studio, a team of Conservation, Cultural Heritage Management and Buildings Archaeology postgraduate students who meet one afternoon a week to assist York Civic Trust with their planning casework. This is no mean feat with often over 60 Planning and Listed Building Consent applications to consider each week, supported by hundreds of documents on the public access planning portal and frequently little accompanying heritage appraisal. Key cases that are of interest to York Civic Trust are identified, casework research shared amongst the team members and discussed utilising an online app and at the following week’s meeting. Each month a summary report with relevant files is presented to the YCT Planning Committee for their consideration so that formal responses can be drafted.
This live and relevant experience was an important enrichment to our professional development, the responsibility of timely and accurate research and the lively discussion it produced would have been difficult to replicate in the classroom. Putting our academic understanding of conservation into practice was constantly challenged by the need to be pragmatic and realistic, conservation deficit is real, even in York, and it was important to consider the sometimes conflicting needs of commerce and heritage.Civic bodies, like York Civic Trust, have an ever more important role in the current climate of local government budget cuts and reduced capacity, ensuring that the people of York are well represented in decisions that impact their historic built environment. This sort of ‘People Power’ included very public cases like that of ‘Tarmacgate’ when the city chose to replace stone flags with asphalt on historic Stonegate this summer, high profile schemes like the one presented for the Clifford’s Tower visitor centre through to objections to the initial redevelopment proposals for the old fire station on Clifford Street that would have resulted in the complete loss of the Trinity Chapel Peckitt Street façade.
Trinity Chapel Peckitt Street shown from Clifford’s Tower with the the prison undergoing demolition in the foreground. Note the former chapel’s round gable window, which, although now bricked up, is still in evidence on the side of the fire station. (York Press)
York Civic Trust www.yorkcivictrust.co.uk
York Press www.yorkpress.co.uk