Planning for Heritage

Understanding the value of heritage is as important as technical conservation and an understanding of traditional materials. Heritage values are often perceived as soft and intangible, this makes them vulnerable and difficult to hold on to when a project comes under pressure from more recognisable project issues such as budgets and ease of construction.

When projects encounter difficulties during the planning stage, it is often as a result of an inability to recognise and engage with the 'soft' heritage values. This gives rise to delays, additional costly redesign work and a great deal of frustration. An understanding of heritage values at an early stage, could reduce or remove many of these barriers and result in a better outcome for all.


elgin historic street


Without going into the purpose of the heritage sector at length, there are two overarching themes that need to be considered, when approaching a new project.

  1. Heritage Values

Heritage is recognised as having positive benefits for society, including  people’s health, wellbeing and identity – these have indirect economic benefit for the wider community. There are numerous detailed economic studies that have demonstrated the scale of the benefits. These are benefits that communities like to protect.


  1. Heritage Protection

The value of heritage often comes under development pressure when there is a focus on more immediate economic considerations. As the benefits to not appear directly in the project cost assessments, there are risks that heritage will be overlooked or compromised by strategies that seek to minimize costs. There are the statutory and regulatory procedures that have been put in place to protect and control what happens to heritage, and in particular officially designated heritage.

The regulatory side is fairly clear cut.;

Scottish Planning Policy (141) –

‘listed buildings should be protected from demolition or other work that would adversely affect it or its setting’

Historic Environment Policy for Scotland (HEPS)

‘Decisions affecting the historic environment should ensure that its understanding and enjoyment as well as its benefits are secured for present and future generations’

‘If detrimental impact on the historic environment is unavoidable, it should be minimised. Steps should be taken to demonstrate that alternatives have been explored, and mitigation measures should be put in place.’

Within Historic Environment Scotland policies there is a clear hierarchy for managing change in listed buildings;

  1. Minimal intervention first, then if necessary
  2. Adaptation may be considered, then if necessary
  3. Extension, then if necessary
  4. Selective demolition,
  5. Enabling development is the last resort.

Buildings do not have to be listed to fall under heritage controls, any building located within a conservation may be subject to the same level of control.

There can be a popular perception that heritage is a matter of subjective opinion, nice to have but not necessary. From this perspective, any objection or hold up to a development on the grounds of heritage considered an unwelcome intervention from an over enthusiastic do-gooder, frivolous and an unreasonable/cost burden on the developer.

However the planners and HES have a duty to uphold the published legislation, policy and guidance that applies to a site, in order to protect the public interest and wider economic benefits of heritage. Where a project is contrary to the published policy and guidance they will have no option but to recommend refusal.

In order to avoid backing you project into a corner you cant get out of, it is important to engage with heritage values from the outset. Even if you don't fully understand it, if you can accept that it is backed up back a wealth of comprehensive research and is therefore a serious issue that deserves to be respected, you will be moving in the right direction.

When heritage values and the softer social/aspirational side of heritage are overlooked, the risk of the project butting up against, and coming to conflict with the statutory / regulatory side increases. Conversely the engaging with the softer heritage values early, reduces or removes the regulatory barriers that are going to be encountered, making the process smoother, and improving the quality of the final project.




MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects, PAS 2035 Retrofit Co-ordinators and Principal Designers working with traditional buildings throughout Scotland. 

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