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05/09/2016

Case study: Embracing a historic future in Nottingham

Words: Mark Smulian
Nottingham Castle

Case study: Embracing a historic future in Nottingham

Awards: RTPI Award for Excellence in Planning for Heritage

Project name: Nottingham Heritage Strategy

Key players: Nottingham City Council’s head of development management and regeneration, manager of heritage and urban design, and conservation officer; Nottingham City Council portfolio holders for jobs, growth, transport and heritage, leisure and culture, and planning and housing; Locus Consulting; Historic England

The project’s Origins

Like many cities, Nottingham had not always been careful of its heritage, with older buildings in past decades being demolished to make way for modern replacements and main roads.

This led to some concern among conservationists. But after Nottingham City Council secured a number of Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants, heritage took a more important place in its plans.

The HLF wanted to know the context into which it was putting its money – was it for individual projects scattered around the city, or part of a considered plan?

Nottingham is conducting a substantial regeneration of its city centre, amid a growing awareness that heritage has a positive role to play in economic development. Thus, the idea was born for a heritage strategy to make sure that Nottingham’s wealth of important buildings were considered during redevelopment.

“We did this because it was the right thing to do,” says Paul Seddon, Nottingham City Council’s head of development management and regeneration. “It was about how we use heritage to help the city council’s ambitious regeneration programme.”

1,000 years to guard

Nottingham had had a taste of how this could work with its £70 million heritage-led regeneration of the city’s station. “We had a live example there, but how were we to use heritage and help to make sure it is seen as valuable in regeneration?” asks Seddon.

“That was the place argument for having the strategy, but also Historic England was not necessarily best friends with us; I think there was a perception that heritage was not high up our agenda.”

This heritage is considerable. Nottingham’s 1,000 years of history includes, of course, Robin Hood, although his legacy is more cultural than physical. The city grew around two sandstone hills, one of which is topped by the castle - a scheduled ancient monument - and the other by the grade I listed St Mary’s Church.

Features of the Saxon and Norman settlements remain, but the city’s most unusual feature derives from sandstone’s property of being both easily excavated but strong. “There is a cave system that is the most extensive in the UK, possibly in Europe,” says Seddon. “There are 500 known caves and some can be visited.”

"The once-prosperous lace industry has left an extraordinarily high quality of buildings"

Nottingham’s other big heritage draw is the Lace Market area, where the once-prosperous lace industry “has left an extraordinarily high quality of buildings”, says Seddon. These are mainly from the 19th century and unusually large.”

“Nottingham was constrained in its growth by being surrounded by land that was valuable for agriculture, so within the city the building became more dense. There are unusually large buildings for their age, some really tall,” says Seddon.

The main regeneration area is seen as the Southern Gateway, reconnecting the transport hub near the station to the city centre where, says Seddon, “there is still the old street pattern and some splendid buildings which we want to re-imagine”.

To help develop a strategy, the council called in local planning firm Locus Consulting. Director Adam Partington says: “From the Georgian period onwards you have a really rich range of architecture. There’s the original Boots shop and dispensary, for example. Two architects dominated Nottingham as it developed – TC Hine and Fothergill Watson – and their work is still there.”

Partington says that, apart from inevitable criticism from Robin Hood fans that the outlaw was insufficiently emphasised, the strategy has been well received.

“We went through a consultation approach where we wanted to capture enthusiasm for heritage and respond to that. We talked the plan through with stakeholders and looked at opportunities to use heritage as part of the regeneration and at how buildings at risk could be saved and used in regeneration – a sort of SWOT analysis.”

Partington, as an outsider, says the exercise was “very much led by planners”. Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport said heritage “was the main driving force”.


What the judges said

Judges called the Nottingham Heritage Strategy "a good practical exemplar with wider application potential", which shows that heritage can be at the heart of place-making and can be combined with economic growth principles. They said they wre "particularly excited about the team's forward thinking in regards to preservation and conservation management."


Highfield ParkTransforming a city

The council is now working with the Heritage Lottery Fund to deliver a £24 million transformation of the castle, a £4.64 million restoration of Highfields Park and a £1.7 million townscape heritage scheme. Flagship regeneration projects in which heritage plays a role include a new Bulwell Town conservation area, adopting a schedule of locally listed buildings and offering online access to Nottingham’s historic environment record.

"It is not just about heritage, but the balance of the place and how people see it and its story"

Adoption of the strategy has also led to creation of a ‘heritage panel’. A heritage strategy officer post, funded jointly by Nottingham City Council and Historic England, and a forthcoming Building Trust will work with communities to address heritage at risk in their areas.

Although preparing the strategy did not involve the exercise of planning powers as such, the process saw planners review existing plans, including the Nottingham, Broxtowe and Gedling aligned core strategy, as well as the city’s growth plan and retail strategy.

This allowed them to look at heritage from multiple perspectives and seek opportunities to integrate heritage where relevant. The review also considered policies and identified any shortfalls and gaps in capacity and provision with which the strategy should engage.

Nottingham thinks that while many councils have strategies that recognise heritage simply as a valued resource to be conserved and protected, it is the first to go beyond that and engage with regeneration and growth. Seddon says: “It is not just about heritage, but the balance of the place and how people see it and its story. There is lot of history here.”

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