HISTORIC CONSERVATION AREA DESIGNATION FINALLY ACHIEVED
In September 2021 the top part of Hamlet Court Road was designated as a conservation area after 5 years' hard work by our Forum. Now the community and the Council can start to work on restoration and improvement projects. Of course these first rely upon getting the conservation message across and encouraging building owners to repair buildings in an historically correct way. When an area has had no conservation practice, ever, persuading best conservation practice will take some considerable time. Building owners and the community need time to learn about what conservation means. But with designation comes the possibility of funding opportunities and we will look out for these when they arise.
In 2019 and at huge effort, we applied for £1.8m of funding from the High Street Heritage Action Zone Fund knowing that we had already failed to meet the number one bid criteria - that the area should be a conservation area. A major 7000 word bid was submitted as a key part of our conservation work. Our thought was that we would, at the very least, raise the profile of both the area and the funding potential with Historic England and Southend Borough Council. In this we succeeded. We now need to await the next funding opportunities which may be some way off given the current economic climate.
But what of the so called WIDER area, architecturally and historically significant but not now designated. Designation for Ditton Court Road was supported in writing by no less than three national and international experts. One of these experts, arguably the most eminent expert on the architecture of Essex, supported designation to lower HCR, Preston Road and Cossington Roads. Our views on this, supported by 92.5% of 240 local survey respondents do not change and we will continue to seek protection and future improvement to this area.
For now we'll leave published here below our earlier published comments supporting wider protection:
Whilst much of what the Council's conservation area appraisal is generally very good and helpful there is a lot that isn't said so we will try to help this here with 10 points:
1. Myth buster - conservation designation is not retrospective and there is no obligation to carry out conservation works to buildings. Yes there would be encouragement to do things in a way that fits in with the conservation area but this is NOT mandatory.
2. Myth buster - when building works are carried out there is no requirement for upgrading existing element such as uPVC windows, plastic rainwater pipes or concrete roof tiles. Again there would be encouragement to use suitable materials and perhaps grants might become available to help this but there are NO controls preventing direct replacement of existing materials.
3. The railway station is the single most important reason that Hamlet Court Road and the surrounding roads became developed (as shown in the wonderful social history image above) yet this area and the south of Hamlet Court Road is outside the area that the Council Administration want to protect.
4. Lower HCR and the neighbouring roads have many amazing Arts & Crafts buildings, quite distinct in our town. Ditton Court Road has apparent connections to the Garden City (Suburb) Movement with a wonderful landscaping history. Preston and Cossington Roads have numerous fine examples of Arts & Crafts architecture. Preston Road has one of the finest original avenues of trees in the borough.
5. Lower HCR area makes up what we have called the Art Deco Axis in our town. This is arguably three of our most important buildings - Argyll House on our seafront, Sunray House in Canewdon Road and Havens at the top of Hamlet Court Road - a most important feature in our town which we are lucky to have.
6. Lower HCR has a significant history with much of the original Milton Estate (the WIDER AREA) formerly owned by Lord Brassey and family, son of Thomas Brassey the great railway engineer who brought the London Tilbury Southend railway to Westcliff. We know that Lord Brassey was connected to Raymond Unwin (Garden City Movement) and Henrietta Barnett (Hampstead Garden Suburb) and other notable people from the time.
7. The WIDER AREA designation is supported by some eminent people including Dr Mervyn Miller, a world authority on the Garden City Movement and James Bettley, author of the 'The Buildings of England: Essex' form the important Nicolas Pevsner series. On a local walk about with the Architectural Heritage Fund the representative said the area was amazing, Hampstead like!
8. The WIDER AREA is easily comparable with the Leigh conservation areas where some of the roads have very questionable inclusion. Just look at Leigh Park Road with massive 60's blocks of flats, indistinct buildings and just a modest number of good Edwardian houses. Laurel Close and Leigh Hill Close are simply conservation frauds yet they have been protected for decades.
9. Conservation designation is about a lot more than conservation. It is a major way that serious funds can be brought into the area, supporting the businesses and economic regeneration of all of HCR. This can be seen across England and must now happen here. This happens first by galvanising the local community and groups like HCCF stepping forwards. For example Leigh recently obtained no less than £50,000 for improved signage due to a galvanised Business Partnership. This has to happen in all of HCR and conservation can be a key part of this.
10. Conservation works best with community involvement and the top part of Hamlet Court Road has almost no residential community. There is the risk that it will fail from inception without this support. Yet another reason to support the WIDER AREA designation.
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Heritage led Conservation...for our time
The conservation of the historic parts of towns is a statutory responsibility that local planning authorities are obliged to take up through conservation designation, protective planning policies and guidance. This happens throughout Southend-on-Sea but Hamlet Court Road & the surrounding area is not yet officially designated, although it is recognised as an area of some architectural and heritage significance. But local conservation is also something where local residents and traders can step in, take ownership and actively help to protect the area - the historic parts of town where people live and work.
Conservation Area designation is now a real prospect and a public consultation has been undertaken by the Council. Following 3 years of hard work and lobbying, making the case for designation, we have also asked what the public would like to see happen with an online public survey. We received some amazingly supportive results - see below.
SURVEY CLOSED 30/9/20 - RESULTS BELOW
240 people responded
98% of respondents agreed that conservation area designation could help the protection and improvement of the Hamlet Court area. 0.8% disagreed with this and 1.2% were undecided.
92.5% of respondents indicated that the conservation area boundary should include both upper and lower Hamlet Court Road, Ditton Court Road, Preston Road and Cossington Road. 4.2% indicated that the boundary should only include upper HCR with 3.3% undecided.
89.2% of respondents indicated support for wider conservation protection locally, outside of the suggested designation boundary. We pointed out that this might not be through formal designation but it does indicate a desire for local protection that could be assisted through appropriate new Local Plan policies (the Local Plan is being re-written at this time). 9.6% did not support this with 1.3% undecided.
The survey invited the ranking of six aspects that could assist local regeneration. Results were, interestingly, fairly uniform as follows but indicating the desire to see the environment and safety of the road as the priority:
Improved environment and streetscape 20.1%
Improved safety 16.9%
Rates reduction 16.0%
A new market 14.8%
Improved marketing 13.3%
Improved access 13.2%
To give a little more of the background to our work an important report was obtained by the Council from their consultants Purcell in October 2019. The Forum responded to this by publishing a report in January 2020 (updated in April 2020) on the conservation area potential which can be seen here ConservationDesignationReportJan20RevA. This describes what's called the 'special interest' of the area which is briefly described below. An updated draft appraisal by Purcell is due to go to Council Cabinet in November 2020.
Hamlet Court Road, the focal part of the area, is historically important as an Edwardian shopping street - a public gathering place of huge local heritage. The road demonstrates an incredible flourish of Edwardian architecture with Classical, Baroque and Arts & Crafts references, and later, the strong, local Art Deco influence. It demonstrates a time of great societal confidence and exuberance. When the railway came the area opened up and was developed within a few years. Most of the local houses that survive today were built at this time and echo the variation, decoration and craftsmanship of Hamlet Court Road. This makes the area historically significant, important for our heritage, and there is not another road like it in south-east England.
Hamlet Court Conservation Forum (HCCF) is therefore a great opportunity for local people to come together to shape the protection and future of the area. It can also become a great local resource to help inform and build local community cohesion. Please lend your support to the Forum here.
The HCCF committee meets every 4-6 weeks but due to the the current Coronavirus crisis these meetings are now online. Any member of the Forum may make representation to any meeting with comments or questions, within the scope of our constitution - please contact us here in the first instance http://hamletcourt.org/contact/ Our next meeting is our AGM online on Saturday 20th June at 3pm. All members will receive a Zoom meeting invite shortly before the meeting.
12/16 - First meeting with senior Council officer and Portfolio Holder; warm outline support received
7/17 - Detailed statement of case for conservation designation submitted to the Council
9/17 - Presentation to the Council Conservation Working Party; widespread Member support and agreement on a proposition to be put before Cabinet
11/17 - Cabinet proposition and agreement that an officer report on conservation implications would be commissioned and reported back to Cabinet in 1/18 - however, this report was never sent back to Cabinet
4/18 - Meeting with Alison Griffin, CEO of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council - just a briefing meeting really
5/18 - Change of Council Portfolio holder for Planning; inevitably this delays progress on conservation designation
7/18 - First 'Love Hamlet Court Road' event
1/19 - Council decide that HCR conservation position is to be assessed by consultants as part of the new Local Plan work and initiate consultant procurement
4/19 - Purcell consultants appointed by Council to undertake heritage work for local plan, with assurance that HCR would be the first priority
5/19 - High Street Heritage Action Zone funding opportunity launched by Historic England; HCCF urgently lobby Council for fast track conservation designation to the top half of HCR to enable a bid to be submitted
7/19 - Comprehensive 7000 word High Street Heritage Action Zone funding bid submitted to Historic England. However this was submitted in the knowledge that we did not meet the very first of the funding criteria - that of being a conservation area!!! This sounds perverse but so determined are we to raise the profile of the project that we decided to submit, with all the work that was entailed, in any event.
9/19 - Sadly and as anticipated our HSHAZ bid was rejected - on the sole grounds that the area is not yet designated by the Council as a conservation area. However, the project is now on the radar of Historic England and we hope this has helped the Council to see the level of commitment behind our work. Also this month we were contacted by The Architectural Heritage Fund to see if they could help with funds into Hamlet Court Road. Sadly, again, this cannot happen without conservation area designation first. This most crucial part of our work is being considered by the Council although we are told the work will not be reported until next spring! We continue to lobby the Council and our Ward Councillors for a dialogue on their considerations.
10/19 Purcell report arrives at the Council and although it recommends a conservation area for the upper part of Hamlet Court Road (St Helen's Road to the London Road). However, it does little to recognise the wider historical significance in the surrounding roads, calling for 'wider study'.
1/20 HCCF submits a detailed report to Council supporting the designation of upper Hamlet Court Road but calling for a wider recognition of the local historical and architectural significance, including in lower Hamlet Court Road, Ditton Court Road, Preston Road and Cossington Road. But we also called for wider protective policies beyond these roads.
8/20 Council propose conservation area designation to top part of Hamlet Court Road in draft report for Cabinet but fail to invite us to the Conservation Working Party where this was to be discussed. No doubt this is a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy but it does illustrate how Council mistakes so easily happen when dealing with the community and raises questions about accountability. We continue to make the case for wider conservation area designation as supported by 91.5% of respondents in our public survey.
9/20 Community Survey closed with great support given to wider conservation area designation - see above
10/20 Questions put to Full Council and Government Planning White Paper consultation submitted - see here WhitePaperConsultation
9/21 Conservation designation finally achieved for the upper part of commercial Hamlet Court Road