Torrington Place to Tavistock Place Public Inquiry
BCAAC recently took part in a Public Inquiry, which was held at Camden Town Hall for four weeks, between 10 October and 2 November 2017. An Experimental Traffic Order, signed off in July 2015, heralded significant changes to the layout and flow of traffic along Torrington Place and Tavistock Place (between Judd Street and Tottenham Court Road), a corridor that runs through the heart of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area. The Public Inquiry was conducted by an independent Inspector, Martin Elliott, and it gave people affected by the proposed changes the opportunity to make representations – either for or against.
BCAAC’s Statement of case
The townscape and historic value of Bloomsbury as an example of urban planning is of outstanding national, if not international value and repute. BCAAC’s participation in the Inquiry was to ensure that proper consideration and weight be given to the impact the proposed scheme would have on recognised heritage assets that lie within the Conservation Area.
The Advisory Committee felt that it was important the Inspector considered the potential visual and physical impacts in accordance with relevant legislation and the National Planning Policy Framework. Paragraph 132 of the latter states that “when considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation. The more important the asset, the greater the weight should be.”
In its submission to the Inspector, BCAAC also referred to the statutory duties under Section 72(1) of the Listed Building Act 1990 and the requirement to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the Conservation Area.
Camden Council is under a clear obligation or duty to take heritage matters into account, whether acting as planning or highway authority. Reference was made to Historic England guidance and specifically Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management Historic England Advice, Note 1, published by Historic England February 2016.
Managing Change in Conservation Areas
“It is also important that utility companies, statutory undertakers and the highway authority are engaged from designation through to drawing up and implementing management proposals, as the character and appearance of conservation areas is often related to the treatment and condition of roads, pavements and public spaces and traffic management generally.”
“Protecting the character or appearance of an area will often be more effective if a flexible approach is taken to the requirements of the Building Regulations (Historic England advice on energy efficiency and historic buildings). Similar flexibility is needed in compliance with the Equalities Act 2010 and the Fire Precautions Act 1971, and highway policies where they would be in conflict with the preservation or enhancement of the area’s character or appearance.”
Despite the fact that BCAAC advises the council on major proposals affecting the character and appearance of this unique area and its setting, officers and members had failed to show any regard to the impact the proposed changes to the street layout might have on the Bloomsbury Conservation Area.
BCAAC’s closing submission
On the final day of the Inquiry each party presenting evidence to the Inspector provided a closing statement.
The Advisory Committee concluded that BCAAC was neutral so far as expressing a view on cycling per se, but was not neutral in opposing harmful impacts on the area resulting from physical measures to facilitate this activity. It strongly endorsed the Historic England approach, as set out in its guidance, Heritage at Risk in Conservation Areas, specifically under the section Identifying local distinctiveness, which identifies three vital ingredients: good design, quality materials and respect for the past.
Under cross-examination on 11 October a Camden witness admitted that they had not considered the impact of the scheme on the conservation area or the settings of numerous listed buildings lining the route.
Had Camden included the Advisory Committee in the Council’s early deliberations about possible changes to the Torrington/Tavistock corridor, then it is quite possible that BCAAC would have been in support of the proposals. But in the current circumstances, and mindful of the duty to preserve or enhance, the Advisory Committee was obliged to be in opposition to the scheme in its current form as the proposed treatment of road surfaces, signage etc. is not sympathetic to the character of the Conservation Area.
The Inspector is now in the process of writing his report to Camden Council. This should be available to read on the Council’s website in January or February 2018.