New 'how to' guide outlines a development-led approach to masterplanning based on analysis of unique place identity

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and English Heritage today launched its first joint 'How to' guide outlining a new development-led approach to masterplanning, which advocates assessing the historic character of a site right at the earliest stages of redevelopment. This is set to transform the way sites are redeveloped.

The guide, Capitalising on the inherited landscape – an introduction to historic characterisation for masterplanning is the product of an innovative joint pilot project between the two agencies. This took the established conservation-led historic characterisation approach – encouraging the use of specific techniques to identify the distinctive characteristics of a site in order to explain an inherited sense of place and identity – as a starting point - and tested its value at different stages of the development process.

'Capitalising on the historic landscape – an introduction to historic characterisation for masterplanning' shows why Historic Characterisation should be used to inform masterplanning; outlines how it fits with wider policy and guidance; summarises three pilot studies, and gives an outline of the benefits of the historic characterisation approach.

The pilot found that the historic characterisation approach:

  • Establishes a comprehensive, contextual understanding of a site in relation to its surroundings, defining and explaining an inherited sense of place and identity;
  • Is an excellent tool for defining, accessing and explaining inherited sense of place and identity;
  • Works across site ownership boundaries and is valuable for long term strategic and legacy planning in providing recommendations for future site layouts and designs that grow from existing character;
  • Has an important role to play as part of identifying risks and issues which can create confidence for financial investment in a site, and supplies a framework for engaging with local communities and other stakeholders; and
  • Can be applied to a great variety of sites whatever the scale or context.

The pilot focused on three very different sites earmarked for future redevelopment under the HCA’s Hospital Sites portfolio: the former Graylingwell Hospital in Chichester, Hanham Hall near Bristol (pictured), and Prudhoe in the Tyne Valley. The sites were all of contrasting scale and context, and the Historic Characterisation methodology used was adapted in each case.

The main key finding indicates that historic characterisation is of greatest benefit when carried out in advance of detailed masterplanning so it can fully influence this process. In doing so, the historic environment informs future development plans, which can benefit from capitalising on the inherited historic landscape.

The guide also offers a way to contribute to UK implementation of the Council of Europe's 'European Landscape Convention', which aims to shape and enhance future landscape and place in town as well as in country.