Conservation in Theory and Practice

Members at the Society's May meeting welcomed no less than three officers from the District Council to explore a range of conservation topics.

First into bat came Alison Richard, with the interesting designation of Projects Implementation Coordinator. In simple terms, she is responsible for the implementation of the Lichfield Parks Project. This is truly a "good news story" since the Council has recently secured 3,919 million from the National Lottery to upgrade and promote Beacon Park and Minster Pool. This is no simple patching up exercise after many years of frugal investment, but a major makeover which has a number of elements. Historic and architecturally important buildings are to be renovated; buildings, including the bowls pavilion, will be replaced or rebuilt; landscape works will lead to the provision of new benches, lighting and litter bins together with improvements to the bank edges at Minster Pool. Enhanced biodiversity will be promoted through tree and shrub planting and the introduction of a new woodland management regime. Finally, better interpretation facilities will be provided with new notice boards and leaflets, as part of the Lottery's requirements to make the parks accessible to a wider audience. Unusually for Lottery grants, money is not only available for the works element, but also for the maintenance of the revitalised sites for 10 years, so we can be reassured that funds are available to ensure that the improved parks remain in good condition. Work is planned to start in September this year and take about 18 months to complete. So expect some short term disruption in return for the long term benefit which we will enjoy.

Dan Roberts, the Council's Conservation and Urban Design Officer, supported by Debbie Boffin gave us a cerebral presentation entitled Patterns of Places, with a sub-theme of "What Makes Good Design?" which explored the principles behind the evolution of our townscapes. Organic growth takes place in our urban areas, adding layer upon layer of buildings, street patterns and uses. This has produced the often fascinating yet puzzling pattern of building styles which we often find so pleasing. Dan wrestled with the issues relating to modern design. Should we promote good pastiche design or modernist? Is there a place for both? And what about materials? So often satisfying designs are blighted by a poor choice and quality of materials. Yet all is not lost. There are good designs - but they do need to be carefully thought through.

The question and answer session to wind up predictably explored the design of the new Tesco store, where, but for the efforts of Dan and his colleagues, we were told we would have been presented with a much worse design of building than some think we are to be blessed with now. At least the illuminated sign has been removed from the roof! We moved on to talk about the proposed Birmingham Road retail development (in the current economic climate, will now proceed?), and touched on the problem of the vacant and decaying former Angel Croft Hotel; and, of course, the Poundbury development in Dorset was bound to crop up in the debate!

Roger Hockney
May 2009