Conservation – where do we draw the line?

Conservation – where do we draw the line; this is a debate currently taking place within the Brentham Society.

The Society aims for “conservation”, to preserve the character of the estate while still allowing it to be somewhere that residents can enjoy modern living. As a conservation area, Ealing Council undertakes an assessment every 10 years, so that the various planning guidelines can be updated to control developments that may be changing the character of the estate.  Over the years the guidelines for what is allowed have changed, and some alterations to houses that have been allowed in the past would not be allowed under the present guidelines.

It is important to note that it is the duty of the local authority to use their legal powers to safeguard and enhance the special qualities of the estate, and although the Society has a strong and positive influence, the ultimate decisions on individual planning applications are taken by Ealing Council. Their decisions are based on  Brentham Garden Suburb’s  Character Appraisal 2008, which can be read here.

The concept of cumulative or incremental damage comes into play here. Individual alterations may seem to be within the spirit of the estate, but if they are replicated in several other areas, they may have a cumulative detrimental effect. An example would be additions of large extensions at the side of houses, which may damage a vista between houses.This is why the guidelines are reviewed every 10 years. Some conservation areas have lost their status because this cumulative damage has destroyed the very character of the area, and so cumulative damage and loss of original character is one of the main areas of concern for the Brentham Society. As more development occurs it is inevitable that the criteria become more demanding because of the danger of incremental change to the original character.

Another example which comes to mind is the brilliant white paint which many of our houses now sport, and which has become a part of the character of the estate. As built, the houses had a soft buff render or were lightly whitewashed, and there are examples of this still remaining for comparison. By the time the Conservation Area was first introduced white was the predominant colour, and the guidelines have allowed this to continue. Brentham houses are mostly in blocks and it is important that the colour is uniform across the block, although not necessarily across the estate as a whole.  It is a matter of opinion which of the two colours looks better, with many conservationists preferring the buff approach.

So where do we draw the line? It would be impossible to maintain the estate as it was originally designed; simple things such as the provision of inside lavatories would not be allowed. The original ethos of the estate (co-partnership) has also been lost over the years, as houses are no longer rented but predominantly owner occupied. It is also ironic that the gradual increase in the size of many of the houses has priced out the very people for whom the estate was originally developed

In a Conservation area it is not what is considered attractive but what is considered to best reflect the original visual character that is important and sometimes we have to compromise with the desire to extend and modernize our houses so that we can retain our conservation status. Is there any more we could do to improve the conservation of our area. We would welcome your views on how far we should aim to take conservation so do let me know. You can contact us here or add a comment for others to see under the “Leave a Reply” below.

9 Responses to Conservation – where do we draw the line?

  1. Richard Costella says:

    A comment from Margaret:

    This is a lovely area in which to live and I am very conscious that some restraints are necessary to maintain the character of the estate. However I am sure that it was not created to be a museum piece but to move with the times.
    I would wish to put in a strong plea for allowing double glazing:

    Energy consumption is now a priority global issue.
    Lack of double glazing also affects individual heating bills,
    Overall comfort of the residents and
    Future desirability on the property market.
    It is not realistic to forbid it’s use especially as it is allowed in new build extensions.
    It’s not practical for older members of the community to wrestle with some kind of secondary double glazing.
    If done with planning permission it would not noticeably affect the appearance of the properties.

    I would urge you to consider this positively to the happiness and relief of many people on the estate.

  2. Pip says:

    As others seem to be saying, I think the idea of conservation is wonderful, but should be tempered by consideration of just what one is trying to conserve. I’m pleased to see there can be some variation in the committee from the “Keep all the festering boils because they’re traditional!” approach since it is again an issue where we should be dealing with the spirit, not the letter of the conservation.

    When the estate was originally designed, I understand it was to some fairly high standards of the time. It is those standards we should be trying to maintain. The general “look” is one I doubt many would quibble about – though even there, it is the new, white look which has evolved into the standard, something I am definitely pleased is the case. And, as has been mentioned, it is probably the windows where we have to first address the change in standards.

    There are some windows in the area which I think are rather unfortunate and are not in keeping with the conservation ethos. There are others which look absolutely in line with the spirit of how the area should look and which are, on closer inspection, double glazed, as is in keeping with the newer standards that have been raised.

    Perhaps the committee could find a group of, say, ten households which would like to improve the efficiency of their homes and organize a mass installation of a double glazing design that would be acceptable? All the discussions could be had in advance as to what can and can’t be done and, as long as the price is not excessive, a new standard could be set which maintains the original intentions without being limited by the original capabilities. If double glazing had been available, would that have been used?

    I hope you find that a point worthy of discussion.

    6 Neville Road

    • Pip says:

      I have now had the pleasure of seeing the work of Des Ward of the Traditional Window and Conservatory Company at 4, Denison Road, where the owners kindly had an open day for viewing after getting permission from the central government department to install double glazing.
      It looks very much like the single glazing, so much so that a single glance would see no difference between an original window and the double glazed one, save that the new one would obviously look in rather better condition.
      I think the committee need to look at their guidelines extremely quickly as now there will be far more properties which will want to take advantage of this opportunity. With the committee’s blessing, we could even ensure that the character and style of the estate is maintained for many years to come whilst the quality actually increased. Indeed, with the committee’s blessing, we could even likely come to some bulk buying arrangement with Mr. Ward – the work is certainly not bargain basement even if we could arrange a slight discount – to the advantage of all concerned.
      I do hope the committee will advance this idea since there is no longer a legal block on it and we should all be united on how to continue maintaining this estate to its maximum potential.
      I look forward to comments from all estate residents.

  3. Brian J Davis says:

    Dear Richard,
    I read your piece on conservation with interest. Our experience over the past two years has been edifying. We bought our ‘Brentham Cottage’ from the estate of my wife’s mother, who had very happily lived there for twelve years but was not able to maintain or upgrade the property as well as she would have liked. We had lived just around the corner for 32 years and brought up our children there, so we were conversant with the area. Our daughters now have their own houses and children. The Brentham house was in dire need of renovation and we were recommended to a local architect who took a special interest in Brentham. He listened carefully to our needs and expectations and even took the trouble to assess the way we had been living in the previous house. Bearing in mind that we are of such an age as to be mortgage free, we had a larger house to sell which would fund the works. The brief was simply to achieve as much usable space and natural light as possible and provide modern ‘creature comforts’. A scheme was devised and the planning process was commenced.
    I consider myself a traditionalist and I fully understand and support the whole concept of conservation with regard to the outward and overall appearance of both the house and the houses that surround it. However, the interior of the property was designed for the early 1900’s and was probably ‘state of the art’ in the view of George Lister Sutcliffe, the original architect. Some work had been done many years ago; through-lounge, hot water and central heating etc. but disused fireplaces, even in the kitchen, still existed taking up valuable space and I believe that gas and electricity service was original. Now that really was state of the art at the time. We think we have done justice to Sutcliffe’s vision and upgraded the interior in a responsible and practical way and are very happy with the result. We have ‘slim’ double glazed units in the windows that are part of the new (cavity walled) sections but are not allowed in the original windows. Modern glazed units are hardly detectable and would greatly help in keeping drafty houses warm. Conservation is not ‘pickling’ but managing change.
    The outside plans were a little more extensive than we ended up with and were slightly diminished by the Brentham planning advisory committee. Some ideas were cogent and taken on board but I got the impression that some objections, from both the committee and others, were submitted because they felt they ought to object. Indeed, we were informed by the building contractors that several local residents had asked to look around the house whilst the work was going on. We had no objection to this except that the builders got the impression that a little bit of ‘green eyed monster’ prevailed. I think that the finished property is in good condition and fits well with the rest of the estate. It is indeed unfortunate that there are some houses where windows have not been replaced in the proper manner, the masonry paintwork does not always match, some driveways have been paved over and many hedges overlap the pavement. Fortunately, there are not many tv satellite dishes on view but the most untidy aspect of Brentham houses is, of course, the tv aerials.
    Brian J Davis
    49 Brentham Way

    • Richard Costella says:

      Brian,
      Thanks for your detailed response and thoughtful comments. It seems that you are sympathetic to conservation but would like a more practical view taken when it comes to energy conservation. I think that windows will rise further up the agenda in the future as energy prices continue to rise in the long term. We can’t do much about the lack of cavity walls however.

      I have been investigating secondary glazing recently and one of the problems that I have found is that the windows are not “square”, meaning that pre formed secondary panes do not actually fit without some extra work.

      Richard

  4. Richard Costella says:

    Another resident has a different view:

    We’re only here 2 years and we love it. We love knowing and trusting our kids with our neighbours (impossible in central London where we were) and we love how the village looks.

    But I’m increasingly worried that living in a Conservation Area is becoming the preserve of the wealthy.

    They can afford regular overhauls, new roofs and windows and increasingly, they can afford to ignore energy bills. For many owners in the Brentham area, their mortgages – if they have any – were taken out decades ago and represent a small part of their monthly outgoings. For any new buyers, house prices are huge and mortgages a substantial part of their expenses.

    Energy bills have doubled in the past 8 years. They will doubtless double again before 2020. It means energy conservation becomes a human right and should supersede optics.

    Brentham homes -with their solid brick walls – are draughty and have the worst U values in Britain. We have 2 very young children who cant simply pull on more sweaters. So I do feel that there should be more flexibility when it comes to energy conservation in a CA.

    I accept that windows should be in timber here but i dont accept that double glazing in rear-facing windows should be so frowned upon – especially since no one but the inhabitants will see them in their back gardens.

    I fear there seems to be an attitude in Ealing Council and urged by the Brentham Society of ‘if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have bought here’.

    If such a policy prevails or is extended, then Brentham will become a retirement area and not a place for families planning a future there.

  5. Richard Costella says:

    A resident has passed the following comments to me…

    “These are my personal views about conservation. It would be better if all the houses with buff render were painted white. Some blocks are half-and-half buff and white adjoining one another and it doesn’t look right. I was attracted to the white-painted houses when I was looking to buy because I don’t like a lot of red brick very much either.

    It’s a pity that householders can’t be persuaded to have a good look at their properties and see them in an overall context. This very pretty area is spoiled because some frontages are in a dreadful state and piles of rubbish have been dumped in alleyways. I would like to see residents keeping their houses in good repair because it’s so depressing when they don’t.

    I wonder if there might be an issue in the future re solar panels? I can’t imagine them being allowed at present but who knows what will happen. There are some rather large satellite dishes in back gardens which are not recommended so the odd solar panel might creep in eventually.”

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  7. Clive E says:

    Perhaps as part of the ten yearly conservation review we might also identify beneficial changes that would be encouraged, such as the removal of aerials from roofs.
    50 Denison Road

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