…is a well-established technique used by English Heritage and others to assist with managing change to the historic environment. It is particularly adapted for use in spatial planning or land management. One of its most common forms, county-scale ‘historic landscape characterisation’ and its urban equivalent is now available through Historic Environment Records (HERs) in most parts of England.
…produces an area-based generalised understanding of how places and landscapes have evolved and how their historic character might be appreciated. It is concerned with context and character rather than with individual sites and their fabric.
...there are many different techniques of historic characterisation tailored to different scales and circumstances. The main approaches used by English Heritage are summarised in Understanding Place: An Introduction.
...in one of its most common forms, county-scale ‘historic landscape characterisation’ and its metropolitan and urban equivalents, the results of historic characterisation are available through Historic Environment Records (HERs) in most parts of England. A new method for smaller areas - ‘historic areas assessment’ – has been published by EH for use mainly in towns and villages.
…and its use in planning is supported by a growing number of practical examples in urban, rural, coastal and marine areas. Case studies on these practical applications are summarised in Understanding Place: Character and context in local planning. More detailed reviews of these case studies are also available setting out the main techniques, lessons and uses.
Every place, like every person, has its distinctive character, in large measure determined by its inherited features such as streets, hedges, archaeological sites, buildings or place names. Understanding this character is one of the starting points for deciding a place’s future, the first step in working out how places can be made better in the future.
Capitalising on the past
Characterisation offers a constructive approach to heritage and conservation. Its starting point is that any regeneration or development is set within an inherited landscape containing the remains of human activity, whether built or not, designed or ‘vernacular’, and (perhaps even more importantly) connected, whether physically or intangibly, to other parts of the historic environment. The most successful designs are those that recognise and capitalise on this.
As a tool for managing change strategically – giving us the big picture - it is very well suited to regeneration and place-making, and to informing a variety of strategic planning and management purposes. It is most useful when carried out as far upstream in the design and planning processes as possible. Traditional methods of heritage assessment and protection have their role at later, more detailed, stages but characterisation is a framework for early decisions.
Who should use it?
Because characterisation opens up heritage and its management to more varied and multiple viewpoints, personal as well as specialist, it is more open to absorbing and responding to community views. Because it takes place early in the process it is normally also less confrontational. It is not just a tool for planners or heritage managers, it can also be used profitably by developers, architects and master-planners, and it provides the perfect basis for public information and networking, as in Lincoln.
More information and examples of characterisation can be found on the English Heritage Characterisation webpages:
and on the HAA webpage.
The twenty two case studies summarised in Understanding Place: Character and context in local planning are explored in more depth here. The case studies demonstrate a range of practical applications of historic characterisation in local planning, development management, masterplanning and design, infrastructure, marine planning, conservation areas and community engagement. They show how historic characterisation among its many uses and benefits can:
- form an important part of the evidence base for local and neighbourhood plans;
- provide a framework for assessing the sensitivity and capacity of areas to development;
- support processes such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Appraisals and Environmental Impact Assessments; and
- help identify green infrastructure networks and inform wider land management and conservation programmes.
|1. Greater Norwich Growth Point Historic Characterisation||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design|
|2. Lincoln Townscape Assessment||Development management, Local planning, Masterplanning and design, Conservation Areas, Community engagement|
|3. Rugeley Historic Character Assessment||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design, Conservation Areas, Community engagement|
|4. Kinnerley Parish Landscape Assessment||Community engagement, Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design, Conservation Areas|
|5. Highways and EIA - A453 Widening||Infrastructure|
|6. Solar power in Cornwall: modelling sensitivity||Infrastructure, Development management|
|7 Exeter City Centre, Princesshay Redevelopment||Masterplanning and design, Development management|
|8. West Midlands Farmsteads and Landscapes Project||Large-scale planning, Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning design|
|9. Historic Seascape Characterisation||Large-scale planning, Local planning, marine planning|
|10. Defining Sensitivity in Derbyshire||Large-scale planning, Local planning, Infrastructure|
|11. Aylesbury Vale Landscape Character Assessment||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design|
|12. West Cornwall HEATH project||Large scale planning, Local planning, Land-use management|
|13. East Midlands Landscape Character Assessment||Large-scale planning, Local planning, Infrastructure|
|14. Basingstoke and Dean Traditional Farmsteads Supplementary Planning Document||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design|
|15. Brierley Hill Urban Historic Landscape Characterisation||Conservation Areas, Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design, Community Engagement|
|16. Chester City Centre Characterisation||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design, Conservation Areas|
|17. Aylesbury Vale Conservation Area Management Plans||Conservation Areas, Local planning, Development management|
|18. Understanding Sutton’s Local Distinctiveness - Characterisation and the Evidence Base||Local planning, Conservation Areas|
|19. Oxford Character assessment Toolkit||Community engagement, Local planning, Conservation Areas|
|20. Southampton City Centre Action Plan - Characterisation Appraisal||Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design, Conservation Areas|
|21. Historic Environment Character Assessment for Lichfield District||Local planning, Development management, Infrastructure, Masterplanning and design|
|22. Green Infrastructure in Buckinghamshire||Green Infrastructure, Local planning, Development management, Masterplanning and design|