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‘Conservation can never be a passive policy’

Conservation is an unending campaign of vigilance to forestall the piecemeal destruction of character and put an end to unsympathetic design

Originally published in AR December 1970, this piece was republished online in May 2016

Conservation can never be a passive policy. It is an unending campaign of vigilance to forestall the piecemeal destruction of character, to put and end to unsympathetic design, to prevent errors of scale, to save skylines from being ruptured and to anticipate decay by neglect. The examples that follow are a sorry record of failure – in some cases the direct result of the no-man’s land of artificial boundaries between neighbouring authorities. They have all occurred since the passing of the Civic Amenities Act 1967, from which so much was hoped. If we cannot prevent such tragedies, the Act is worthless and must be amended.

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This horrorific record of the piecemeal dismanting of the architecture of Chippenham High Street shows what the conservation of historic areas is all about. Building by building, a remarkable street was whitted down into a thirties and post-war nonenty.

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4. St James’s Gardens, London, The tower block of flats stands in one borough – Hammersmith- the conservation area in another-Kensington. The one nullisies the other.

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5, Mitcham, Surrey: a jolly Georgian building sadly compromised by a crude addition.

6, Croydon. A minor but distinguished historic survival crushed beyond redemption.

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7, 8, Oxford, of all places. The roof line of one of the noblest streets in Britain -immortalized in Thomas Sharp’s Oxford Replanned – has been violated and a world-famous skyline rudely interrupted despite Oxford’s high buildings code.

9, the skyline of Britain’s major tourist asset (and to date the only universally loved Victorian monument) blotted out by an office. building by the Government itself, and slipped through the planning net ttnder the iniquitous Section 100 procedure.

10, Wallingjord, Berkshire. Conservation should prevent insensitive alterations of this kind.

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11, Deptjord, London. A Queen Anne street decayed and deteriorating. Borough boundaries run down the centre. Some of the buildings on the right have already gone. The GLC -owner of the buildings- has long had an ambitious plan for rehabitation. A pilot scheme for four houses is reaching completion, but solely on the understanding that if the costs are excessive no more will be done. The costs are turning out to be high. Will Albury Street be allowed to die?

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