Conservation in the Age of Consensus


  • [quite UK-specific]
  • There is therefore tremendous continuity in the basic principles that define the historic environment and the way government considers it should be managed, since the late 1960s/early 1970s. These derive from a justification for conservation based upon cultural values relating to architectural quality, historic importance and archaeological significance: to defining places as special. However, what has shifted fundamentally in official pronouncements during this period is the benefits that are argued to derive from this activity. An official document such as Preservation and Change (Ministry of Housing and Local Government 1967) set out brief statements of the value of conservation relating to beauty and visible history. In the 1970s, there was rhetorical emphasis on the social value of conservation, and in the 1980s stress on its economic potential. By the time of the government’s policy advice document PPG15, benefits were argued to include value in terms of national identity, quality of life, local distinctiveness, leisure and recreation and economic prosperity. Force for Our Future, a more recent government statement on the heritage was even more fulsome. It waxed lyrically and extensively about the role of conservation in establishing environmental quality and identity, local distinctiveness and continuity and as an active part of social processes, including community cohesion and social inclusion, and as a stimulus for creative new architecture. Furthermore, conservation was held to aid economic processes and economic regeneration in particular.
  • [but is it possible to separate the cultural values form the social/economic value of heritage?]
  • However, despite these sweeping statements, these are benefits that may (or may not) follow decisions to protect based upon essentially traditional criteria of specialness, and where guidance on conservation management decisions emphasises first and foremost the importance of sustaining cultural worth defined around issues of fabric and aesthetics.
  • [But this is simply not true. Cultural worth is defined through, firstly, the materiality of the heritage, then the community’s definitions of heritage, then intangible heritage, then more often a layering of values. The definitions of cultural value is not at all static.]