Protection, legislation and the role of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust
Protection, legislation and the role of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust
The system that protects historic parks and gardens in Wales is significantly different from that of England and Scotland. Statutory responsibility for heritage protection lies with the National Assembly for Wales and is administered by Cadw, its historic environment service. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) maintains the National Monuments Record for Wales and the four Welsh archaeological trusts maintain the regional Historic Environment Records and advise on heritage management and development control. The Welsh Historic Gardens Trust (WHGT) is the only amenity organisation based in Wales specifically concerned with the protection and conservation of historic parks and gardens.
The WHGT was set up in 1989 in response to the very real threat to many historic parks and gardens in Wales. Of primary concern at the time were the historic parks and gardens of Middleton Hall and Aberglasney in Carmarthenshire and the Hafod estate in Ceredigion. The trust was instrumental in setting up the Aberglasney Gardens Trust and the Hafod Trust, and in establishing the Middleton estate as the chosen site for the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Its main aims and objectives are to conserve, document and promote the historic parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Wales and to campaign for their protection. The trust gained charitable status in 1994 and consists of a central body with county branches throughout Wales.
PLANNING POLICY IN WALES
The current strategic planning guidance, Planning Policy Wales (2002), supplemented by a series of technical advisory notes (TANs), recognises the importance of protecting the historic environment, encompassing archaeology and ancient monuments, listed buildings, conservation areas and historic parks, gardens and landscapes. The contribution of the historic environment to the Welsh Assembly Government’s wider strategic objectives is set out in Wales: A Better Country, The Wales Spatial and Environment Strategy. There is also the imperative (introduced in 2009) for Design and Access statements to accompany planning applications which can and should provide the opportunity for outlining historic context and represents a positive step by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Local planning authorities are required by Planning Policy Wales (2002) to protect sites listed on the Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales (para 6.5.23). The register consists of six main volumes, published between 1994 and 2002, and a supplementary volume published in 2007. As in England and Scotland, the inclusion of a site on the register offers no statutory protection, but para 6.5.23 of PPW (2002) states that:
Inclusion in the Cadw/ICOMOS Register is at the discretion of the owners and currently about 30 sites have been omitted from the register at their owners’ requests.
A feature of the register, unique to Wales, is the identification of the Essential Setting of a listed site which is a concept developed to:
Interpretation in a planning context of the extent of the setting has proved to be flexible in response to the scale and nature of the impact of proposed development. One such important precedent was set in the planning inquiry into the appeal against the refusal of planning permission to site a windfarm in the vicinity of the Grade I site of Margam Park, Port Talbot (2003). The inspector refused the appeal concluding that the turbines would have a major effect upon the park’s setting despite being located beyond the outer limit of the park’s essential setting. The inspector accepted that the Essential Setting was an area of particular sensitivity outside the registered area, but that did not mean that ‘all development outside the Essential Setting, of whatever nature, must therefore be regarded as not affecting either the park or its setting’.
THE CONSULTATION PROCESS
The consultation procedure for planning applications affecting register sites in Wales differs fundamentally from that in England and Scotland. Currently, voluntary arrangements exist for consultation with Cadw and the Garden History Society on planning applications affecting parks and gardens and their settings on the register (PPW 2002 para 6.5.23). Local planning authorities are asked to consult Cadw on planning applications impacting Grade I and II* sites and the Garden History Society (GHS) on applications impacting all parks and gardens on the register (Welsh Office Circular 61/96, Annex B). This arrangement has had unintended consequences, not least because the GHS no longer employs a case officer in Wales and therefore no longer responds directly to planning applications affecting sites on the register.
As the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust has effectively taken over the role of the GHS in Wales, an arrangement has been established whereby the WHGT is indirectly informed of planning applications referred to the GHS; but delays can ensue.
Ideally, all planning applications to local planning authorities (LPAs) require weekly monitoring by Cadw and amenity bodies such as the GHS and Welsh Historic Gardens Trust as unfortunately not all LPAs actively seek consultation. The work of WHGT branch conservation officers and the central co-ordinator is undertaken on a purely voluntary basis; there has been no government funding to date. The task is demanding, particularly where branches have to cover several LPAs. The posting of weekly planning application lists and documents online has speeded up this process. However, delays may ensue if documents have to be requested, or if a trip must be made to the planning offices to view plans.
The trust has a central conservation committee to co-ordinate casework and responses by all the trust branches. Detailed local knowledge within the branches has been demonstrated to be of vital importance when identifying planning applications posing a potential threat. Some branches have been regularly monitoring and responding to planning applications since the introduction of protection and have established a good working relationship with planning departments.
Cadw, the key party on historic environment matters, because of its unique and somewhat ambiguous role, cannot object but only make comments on planning applications. There is a real danger that, even though Cadw may strongly advise against a proposal, a lack of formal objection could be interpreted as support for the application.
In the recent Government White Paper Heritage Protection for the 21st Century the role of the WHGT was acknowledged. The paper proposed statutory consultation and included the WHGT as a statutory consultee in respect of planning applications affecting registered parks and gardens. As in England, the proposals included simplifying the current national designation system for buildings, parks and gardens and ancient monuments with a new unified system, but with no change in the selection criteria or grading systems within Wales. However, this legislation was not included on the last Queen’s List and is unlikely to be introduced to the statute book in the near future.
PROTECTION OF NON-REGISTER SITES
The Welsh Historic Gardens Trust also has a role in highlighting and responding to planning applications affecting gardens of local importance and vulnerable non-register sites not within the protected setting of a listed building, scheduled ancient monument or a conservation area. Several branches have compiled county inventories of parks, gardens and designed landscapes of historic importance. In some cases the trust has been involved in campaigns to spot list sites at risk.
Research was concentrated initially on potential registerable sites in areas where the register had not yet been published. In Ceredigion, where the register did not appear until 2002, sites under threat were prioritised for recording and research. One such was Trawscoed, which lacked adequate protection at the time of its proposed sale by a government agency to a private buyer. A tree survey carried out in 1994 formed the basis of a Woodland Protection Order safeguarding important 18th and 19th century tree plantings.
WHGT has been able to make a unique contribution to conservation in Wales. As a result of the in-depth research carried out by its members, it is capable of responding promptly and knowledgeably to planning applications. Lack of maintenance, wilful or unwitting destruction of garden features and divided ownership can all pose a threat to historic gardens. The local vigilance of WHGT branch conservation officers is one of the few safeguards in identifying such threats.
Decisions made by county councils on land-use planning in Wales are plan-led: that is to say they should reflect the policies set out in local and regional development plans, which, in turn, should reflect the policy of the Welsh Assembly Government. It is therefore vital for the safeguarding of historic parks and gardens that there are strong policies within these plans offering them protection. Effective responses to planning applications depend upon the strength of these policies. Currently many local authorities still operate under the policies of Unitary Development Plans (UDP) or its predecessor the Local Plan. Now each county council is required under the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to produce a Local Development Plan (LDP). Currently we are in a period of transition in which some local authorities are still working on the preparation of a UDP while others have already started on the preparation of an LDP.
The branches of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust have participated in the consultation process in the preparation of local plans and UDPs and as a result effective policies are in place in many development plans. The trust is now taking an active role in the consultation process for the preparation of LDPs and, with its locally-based branches, is in a strong position to make informed contributions to achieve protection of historic parks and gardens in Wales.
In some cases land-use designations in these development plans have been successfully contested. A notable example was Gwynedd County Council’s UDP proposal for applying a business use designation to the core of the historic Faenol estate. The trust held the view that business development would have greatly harmed the Grade I park and the setting of the historic listed buildings and Faenol Conservation Area. The inspector agreed, ruling that the proposed allocation of land for business development be deleted from the Deposit Draft of the UDP. The inspector considered that the proposed business development, even in combination with landscape planting, would very significantly erode the spacious setting of the conservation area and would neither preserve nor enhance its character or appearance in line with the objectives of PPW.
Another recent planning inquiry in which the trust was involved concerned Ruperra Castle near Caerphilly. This case highlights the complex threat posed by enabling development, development which would usually be considered contrary to policy being granted planning permission to enable the owners to fund vital repair work to some historic fabric. In the absence of comparable guidance from Cadw, the policy statements and guidelines issued by English Heritage Enabling Development and the Conservation of Heritage Assets (2008) are requested to be adopted in any planning response concerning enabling development. The underlying remit of these guidelines is that significant damage to the historic asset must not outweigh the gain.
Ruperra Castle’s garden is Grade II listed the Cadw Register, the primary reason being that it represents:
The castle itself is also a scheduled ancient monument and Grade II* listed building within a conservation area. It might thus be considered worthy of the highest level of protection.
The owner submitted an application for refurbishing the castle, outbuildings and ancillary works for residential purposes which included the construction of 18 new dwellings and an access road. Caerphilly County Borough Council’s planners advised their planning committee to approve the enabling development despite widespread objections from the community, heritage bodies and amenity groups. The planning committee listened to the objections and refused the application, and the owner subsequently appealed.
At the public inquiry the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust submitted that the application had not been accompanied by applications for listed building or scheduled monument consent and therefore the impact of the proposals on their special interest was not clear. The trust held that the application would have a harmful impact on the protected landscape, both on the immediate environs of the castle and its relationship to its parkland setting. It was argued that the development was in conflict with approved policies of the Caerphilly Borough Council’s Unitary Development Plan. The appeal was refused on the grounds that 'harm to matters of public interest would far outweigh the benefits of the proposed development'. More specifically, the final ministerial decision, which followed the inspector’s recommendations, concluded that the proposed development would not preserve the setting of the listed buildings on the site and would not preserve or enhance the character of the Ruperra Park and Castle Conservation Area.
Although participation in public inquiries has led to some notable successes, they are costly, both in money and volunteer time, particularly for amenity organisations such as the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust which are reliant on donations and membership subscriptions to cover costs. Sharing these costs with other heritage bodies, or the donation of professional expertise can help, but there is a limit to how many public inquiries can be financed in any one year.
As in England and Scotland there is, as yet, no statutory protection for historic parks and gardens on the Register, but in Wales there is the added disadvantage that consultation arrangements with Cadw and amenity bodies on planning applications affecting register sites are currently voluntary and not statutory. Even more vulnerable are those non-register sites that are of predominantly local importance, but are not the setting of a listed building, scheduled ancient monument or conservation area. Encouragement of the understanding and appreciation of historic designed landscapes through heritage government bodies such as Cadw and the Royal Commission, the archaeological trusts and amenity organisations such as the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust will do much to raise their profile within the wider community.
The following Welsh Assembly Government planning policy documents can be downloaded from www.wales.gov.uk or can be obtained from its Publications Centre, Room 3.022, Welsh Assembly Government, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 2NQ:
Planning Policy Wales 2002
Welsh Office Circular 61/96
Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement 01/2008 on Good Design
Technical Advice Notes
Planning Your Community: A Guide to Local Development Plans
The White Paper – Heritage Protection for the 21st Century can be downloaded from Cadw's website here
The Registers of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales can be obtained from Cadw, Welsh Assembly Government, Plas Carew, Unit 5/7 Cefn Coed, Parc Nantgarw, Cardiff CF15 7QQ. The text entries of individual sites can be downloaded from the Coflein database on the RCAHMW website www.rcahmw.gov.uk.
For more information about the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust visit www.whgt.org.uk or contact its office at The Bothy, Aberglasney, Llangathen, Carms SA32 8QH.
Do we know how many WHGT branches have a list of Candidate sites?
Planning authorities are not obliged to publish a register of Candidate Sites, but are advised to by WAG as good practice.
It is possible to nominate to be protected as an historic landscape and not be designated for development. Ownership is not a pre-requirement for submission of Candidate Sites. A strong case must be made to justify the site as one of significant historic interest. As a general rule Candidate Sites that already have designated protection would not normally be considered by Planning Authorities as sites for development for inclusion in the LDP.
Candidate Sites worth nominating by the Branches could therefore be those that are not offered the protection of being listed in the Cadw/ICOMOS Resister, are not part of the setting of a listed building or are outside a Conservation Area. Locally-important historic urban parks and public open spaces spring to mind as Candidate Sites.
Certain domestic gardens, at present designated as brown space for development, could also be submitted, but it would be necessary to show that they were felt to make a significant contribution to the historic landscape character of an area. Recording and researching of historic parks and gardens carried out by the Branches will be vital to inform this selection process and to justify the inclusion of a Candidate Site in the LDP. Submitting carefully selected Candidate Sites is therefore an effective way that the Branches can flag up significant historic sites that currently are not afforded protection within the planning process and may help prevent unsympathetic development.