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Fresh Focuses amongst the Crocuses - HER Forum Springtime Special Meeting 2016 - 9th March, ‘Steam’ Museum, Swindon

(Post presentation questions and comments – in italicised type following each abstract – are based on notes taken at the meeting).

Welcome from the Chair – Chris Webster (South West Heritage Trust)
Perhaps surprisingly, an additional spring meeting in Swindon proved popular with numbers only slightly down on the regular events. The format was also different with the morning occupied by a workshop considering the future of HER Audits, Benchmarks and Outcomes Frameworks. Large numbers of Post-It notes were collected at the end, so hopefully much useful feedback will be obtained.
There were three talks in the afternoon: Martin Newman reported progress on the Enriching the List project that is piloting adding user comments and photos to the National Heritage List for England, Linden Groves reported on the establishment of The Gardens Trust and how this combined body will work in future, and Patrick Booth described the review of constraint area mapping in the Greater London area.
In a further innovation, the afternoon speakers’ presentations were videoed have been made available on the Historic England U-Tube channel.

Enriching the List – Martin Newman (Historic England)
Enriching The List went live as a semi-public beta test on the 8th of Feb. This presentation will show the system developed and some of the crowd-sourced content uploaded so far including from HER test users. We will look forward to plans for the public launch and how HERs might engage as both contributors ad as users of the information provided.

Question: (HER Officer 1) – Isn’t there a problem if photos of buildings are taken without the owner’s permission?

Answer: It has now been established that photographs taken from publically accessible land or rights of way can be used legally.

Question: (HER Officer 1) – How are those that haven’t observed this restriction going to be filtered out?

Answer: Responsibility here will lie with the contributor. Any photos that are found to have been taken from illegal vantage points will be taken down immediately and steps taken to educate the contributor if necessary.

Question: (Church Heritage Project Officer) – Is the intention to make the contributions fully public on the NHLE site?

Answer: Yes they will be viewable by all whether logged in or not. They will be available through the NHLE. The material will be covered by a ‘creative commons’ protocol which will mean that images can be used in reports as long as they are suitably attributed.  There will be a full launch of the facility in early June this year but the material added now during the trial will continue to be available

Question: (HER Officer 1) – How can you filter to find examples of records that have user contributions attached?

Answer: At present you can’t. This is on a ‘wish list’ of future development work.

Question: (Assistant Inspector Ancient Monuments, Historic England) – Will there be any means of collating the contributions of particular contributors or ‘following’ contributors in ‘Facebook’ style?   

Answer: That would be out of scope at present. However, ways of applying ‘gameification’ to the site are being explored, with the idea that a competitive element might encourage higher levels of input.

Question: (HER Officer 2) – Will list downloads indicate whether contributions exist for particular sites?
Answer: Downloads and reports won’t include contributor content.       

The Gardens Trust and County Gardens Trusts -Linden Groves (The Gardens Trust)
The Gardens Trust was formed in July 2015 from the merger of the Garden History Trust and the Association of Gardens Trusts. The Garden History Trust had the role of a statutory consultee in the planning process, and this standing now resides with the Gardens Trust. 

 The County Gardens Trusts form a complimentary but separate grouping. There are now 36 county trusts in all (Nottinghamshire being in the process of re-launching), each a separate charitable organisation. They have research and recording groups and also other outlets including conservation and education work and garden visits.

In its role, meanwhile, The Gardens Trust (which might be more aptly named 'The Historic Designed Landscapes Trust') deals with landscapes as diverse as gardens, parkland, cemeteries, institutional landscapes and urban parks, varied and complex entities which face a wide range of threats. Consequently the Trust is called upon to comment on around 1500 planning applications per year (which is probably only a fraction of the actual number with which they should actually be involved).

In dealing with this workload the help of the County Gardens Trusts is often called upon. Their local knowledge is being fostered through training and capacity building initiatives and their efforts are co-ordinated through a system of databases onto which details of consultations are logged on a weekly basis.    
       
30 out of 36 county trusts are now commenting on applications and a new planning leaflet has been created to explain how this framework functions, "The Planning System in England and the Protection of Historic Parks and Gardens". This will be made available to local planning authorities and other interested bodies, both as hard copy or through the Gardens Trust's JiscMail site. An online resource, which complements the work of HERs can be found at: http://www.parksandgardens.org/ .

As has been mentioned, one of the strengths of the County Gardens Trusts is research and recording, including site surveys and condition surveys. The reports that the trusts are producing are now both consistent and concise. From this foundation it is hoped to develop an expanded capability within the planning sphere and to seek out its wider applications. Also being sought is a broader publication 'platform' beyond simply providing published volumes to local authorities. 

Looking to the future, consideration is being given to how Parks and Gardens UK should position itself to maximise its usefulness. It has been conjectured that a role might exist for it as an intermediary between the County Gardens Trusts and HERs. On the plus side this would focus operations through one uniform resource (making it easier to train inputters) to which consistent links could be made. Data would also reside in a secure place that HERs could employ as resources allowed. However, there is no question that in numerous instances, direct relations CGT and HERs have been enormously beneficial and productive.  
  
To sum up the future vision of relations between the organisations and HERs:
In the long term - ‘Let’s be friends and share information’.
In the medium term – ‘Use the new Gardens Trust leaflet’.
Today – ‘Let’s make contact’.

Linden began the post presentation discussion by asking what those present thought of the re-positioning model suggested.

Comment: (HER Officer 1) – It would seem odd if the local county trust had to send data to the Gardens Trust only for them to have to send it back to the HER.

Comment: (HER Officer 3) – But wouldn’t greater capacity be created through a centralising body?

Comment: (HER Officer 4) – We might want the more detailed information which the CGT could provide. Would the Gardens Trust be able to access and forward this to HERs?

Comment: (HER Officer 5) – Parks and gardens are complex and are, by their very nature, difficult to record. A case can be made for working through a centralising body but another possibility has to be considered, that data would be fed into the national database without being passed on to the HER. Some mechanism would be required to ensure that HERs weren’t ‘left out of the loop’.

Comment: (HER Officer 6) – Thinking about things from the perspective of the Heritage Gateway User Group, the Gateway web-mapping service would allow the CGT data to be viewed in a geographical context. On the whole it would be good if someone could do this work for me. It doesn’t look like a bad idea in theory, but the practicalities need further thought.

Comment: (HER Officer 7) – Possibly a small feasibility study could be organised involving representatives of ALGAO, the CGTs and the Gardens Trust.  The mosaic of trusts and HERs will involve many variations. In this respect it is important to establish how as much information as possible can be distributed in the best possible way. Perhaps an ‘HER panel’ could be convened to discuss the issue.

There are some similarities between this model and ‘Enriching the List’. GIS mapping could include parks and gardens polygons which could click through to the PGUK site.

Comment: (Church Heritage Project Officer) – This is also the model used by the Churches Database to link into ‘Caring for God’s Acre’ and other initiatives.

Comment: (HER Officer 1) – The County Gardens Trusts shouldn’t be assumed to have all there is to be known. HERs may have additional information.

Comment: (HER Officer 8) – I have experience as a CGT research and recording group volunteer. There is certainly information which can be found on the HER and not elsewhere. My own HER provides an information pack to volunteers to get them started. The relationship between an HER and a county trust is a valuable one, despite being rather time consuming. I wouldn’t wish to rely entirely on an intermediary.  
                           

Archaeological Priority Areas – Patrick Booth (Greater London HER)
The Greater London Historic Environment Record (GLHER) and Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service (GLAAS) are currently involved in a project to review and update Archaeological Priority Areas (APAs) in every London borough.  The definition for an Archaeological Priority Area is “a defined area where, according to existing information, there is known archaeological interest or particular potential for new discoveries.”  They highlight where important archaeological interest might be located based on the history of the area and previous archaeological investigations.  They exist in every London borough and were created approximately 30-40 years ago either by the boroughs or local museums.

London’s Archaeological Priority Areas were created at a borough level rather than a county level so there was no coherent strategy when they were created.  This has led to great inconsistency across London in terms of their size, the number of APAs in each borough and the reasoning behind their creation.  APA information in some boroughs has not been maintained or reviewed for a long time and while each APA should have its own associated description this is not always the case.  At the start of the project six boroughs had a single large APA which lacked any form of description and had not been broken down into smaller units.

The APA review project is an opportunity to appraise, modify, create and delete APAs and establish a centralised and consistent system for the whole of London.  A detailed description will be produced for every APA and new guidelines have been created which aim to create a consistent framework for their creation.  Crucially a new tiered system is being introduced which will lead to APAs being categorized into one of three tiers based on the archaeological potential and significance of the area.  It is hoped that this will lead to a more graduated and streamlined consultation system where the Tier level of the APA and scale of development taking place within it will determine whether or not an archaeological adviser is consulted.

The GLHER is the main source of information when carrying out the review although a number of other sources are utilised.  The first stage of a borough’s APA review is a scoping exercise which determines where new APAs should be located and this forms the basis for the review.  Once the review is completed all the new descriptions and associated maps along with a general preamble which details the historic and archaeological character of the borough are put into an appraisal document which is given to the borough and subsequently incorporated into their local plan.

Since initiating the project two boroughs have been completed, two are nearing completion while work is currently in progress on five other boroughs.  It is anticipated that the project will last into the 2020s.   

Question: (HER Officer 9) – West Sussex HER contains red and amber prioritisation which signify threshold criteria for consultation. Are APAs the only constraint within the Greater London record or are there any other consultation triggers?

Answer: APAs are the primary mechanism used.

Question: (HER Officer 3) – Are there any guidelines for the system?

Answer: Yes, these are available online.

Question: (Assistant Inspector Ancient Monuments, Historic England) – Has guidance been provided to local authorities?

Answer: Yes. Also preliminary consultation was undertaken with all of the London Boroughs beforehand.

Comment: (Chris Webster, Somerset HER) – What would be useful would be a tiered system of site significance which could filter out applications such as those involving the erection of satellite dishes.