Your News: Bourne shopfronts should remain ‘in keeping with town’s character’

Shop fronts in Bourne. Photo: Anthony Jennings EMN-141208-175018001
Shop fronts in Bourne. Photo: Anthony Jennings EMN-141208-175018001

Many readers will know that South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) recently carried out a review of the Bourne Conservation Area, and that it was extended in 2012 as a result of this review.

This was a good move, and a sign of the council’s continuing commitment to the town. When a conservation area has been established, and it covers most of the early buildings in a town or village, people tend to think the job has been done and that’s it. Before 2012, the Bourne Conservation Area already quite rightly covered the town centre, which was effectively the whole of the town as it had developed from the earliest pre-medieval times right through to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in other words to the end of the Georgian period. But it did not cover the later expansion of the town in Victorian and Edwardian times, a period that ended more than a hundred years ago. This deficiency has been substantially rectified by the extension of the conservation area along much of North Road and part of West Road, to protect many of the good family houses and stately villas on what in those days was the edge of town. It also covers the part of Abbey Lawn that was not previously covered, and a small area beside the Red Hall in a belated and inadequate attempt to protect the setting of this important building.

For readers who are still unclear what the Conservation Area now covers, or perhaps even what it is intended to do in the first place, I had better go back briefly to square one. Local authorities were empowered to set up Conservation Areas by the Civic Amenities Act of 1967, and Bourne Conservation Area was first designated in 1977. The idea of conservation areas was to recognise the fact that protection should not just be limited to individual listed buildings, but that the character of a town or village is dictated even more by its attractive or historic settings, building groups, and open spaces, and that it is these that need to be respected and enhanced in order to preserve that character.

A conservation area is defined in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as ‘an area of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’, and property within the Bourne Conservation Area is therefore subject to stronger legal constraints than property outside it. But these constraints should not be seen as oppressive; on the contrary they are beneficial to the character and value of the properties within it, as well to the community of Bourne as a whole. It is the duty of local planning authorities to undertake reviews of their conservation areas from time to time, and SKDC has performed this duty in the way I have described above.

A map of the Bourne Conservation Area can be seen on the SKDC website. Before the extension, the area already covered the core of the town including Market Place and the streets that radiate from it, namely North Street and part of Wherry’s Lane and Burghley Street, West Street, South Street and part of Abbey Road. Later development behind these streets is not included, being of little historical significance. The area also includes the Well Head Fields including the motte and bailey of Bourne Castle and St Peter’s Pool, and Abbey Lawn and football ground.

There is a fair diversity of building styles and uses in the Conservation Area, and each building has its own needs in terms of how it should be maintained and presented. But the main principle is very simple: alterations or restorations need to be sympathetic to a building’s character. Buildings which have retained their traditional shopfronts and elevations contribute most to the quality and character of the area, and therefore enhance the appearance of their street and therefore the Conservation Area as a whole. The negative elements which detract the most, are, in all types of property, the use of inappropriate styles and materials, particularly uPVC, on major features, particularly windows, doors, porches and shopfronts, which can make or mar a property. When repair, restoration and redecoration work is done, care should be taken to ensure that traditional materials of appropriate character are used. Work done with the best of intentions can be highly detrimental unless the rules are followed. The wrong materials, or of the wrong character or design for the period of the property, are not ‘improvements’; for example, wooden sliding sash windows should never be replaced by casement units. And if an existing inappropriate feature has to be replaced, that is an excellent opportunity to restore the property to its original condition. SKDC’s current Conservation Area Appraisal, freely available on the internet, explains features that enhance or detract, using existing buildings as examples.

In the case of commercial buildings, the major detractors are shopfronts, fascias and signage that pay little respect to the character of the building. Examples of this are shopfronts that are stripped of their original detailing, overlarge replacement fascias in inappropriate materials that disrespect the character and proportions of the facade, and signage stuck on walls or windows in thoughtless disregard of its impact on the building. The principles that are specific to commercial premises are likewise excellently explained in the Bourne Shopfront Design Guide, which is also freely available to everyone on the SKDC website.

Finally, as I mentioned in my first article, Bourne Preservation Society produced our own Conservation Area Leaflet and distributed it with the help of SKDC, and once again this is available on the SKDC website.

All the principles are basically common sense, and, if complied with, will ensure that a property retains its character and value, and, most importantly, that the Conservation Area is properly maintained for the benefit of the community as a whole, and that of course then attracts more visitors.

In short, a few moments spent looking at the documents I have referred to, and applying their sensible principles when maintenance is needed, will pay great dividends for the future of Bourne, as well as its past.