England's historic cities, towns and villages are a lasting record of past lives and endeavours. Their varied and distinctive forms, powerfully expressed in buildings, street patterns and open spaces, lie at the roots of local identity. Historic Area Assessment is a way of defining the character of a place, explaining how it has acquired its present form and evaluating its significance. It is therefore a valuable aid to decision-making in the fields of planning and conservation, focusing attention on what matters and why if distinctive local character is to be maintained and enhanced.
Historic Area Assessment (HAA) belongs to the wider family of historic characterisation techniques. The approach has been developed to meet the needs of those managing change in the historic environment at area scale, but it can also be used for academic study and community benefit.
The approach is neutral in that it examines all aspects of the historic environment, not just those (like listed buildings) which have been previously singled out as of 'special interest', and it seeks to identify a range of significances ranging from the local to the international.
The basis for these judgements is an examination of the physical fabric of a place coupled with the use of historic maps and other documentary sources. Best results will be achieved when a range of architectural, historical, archaeological and conservation skills can be assembled, but the methods are straightforward and adaptable to local circumstances.
The techniques used in Historic Area Assessment provide a robust evidence base for decision-making and have the capacity to inform and strengthen a range of planning tools, including Conservation Area Appraisals, Masterplans, Local Development Frameworks and Village Design Statements.
New English Heritage guidance
An English Heritage guidance document, 'Understanding Place: Historic Area Assessments - Principles and Practice' was published in June 2010. It is aimed at practitioners, historic environment specialists, planners, community groups, developers and others interested in understanding the benefits that Historic Area Assessments can provide. It sets out the characteristics of Outline, Rapid and Detailed HAAs and provides practical guidance on planning, undertaking and commissioning HAAs.
Understanding Place Historic Area Assessments: Principles and Practice
07 Jun 2010
This guidance document offers advice on how to undertake assessments of historic areas – for a number of purposes and in a number of circumstances, but always with the objective of defining and explaining the character of a place and defining its significance.
A shorter sister document ‘Historic Area Assessments in a Planning and Development Context’ was also published in June 2010.