Salisbury cathedral from Netherhampton

Salisbury cathedral from Netherhampton: planning policy has historically aimed to protect views of the cathedral by limiting development in some greenfield areas on the periphery of the city.

Research by Green Balance has highlighted the challenge of protecting the character and settings of cathedral cities and historic towns which face housing growth pressures. This also identified some opportunities and good practice.

Protection of listed buildings from inappropriate change is well-established, but how should we look after whole historic towns and cities and their settings?  In 2014 Green Balance completed a major project for English Heritage on The Sustainable Growth of Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns to examine the tensions between heritage and proposed development in some of our most precious places (with David Burton-Pye).


A review of planned growth in 50 historic towns showed that some face considerable pressure for growth but other do not.  The location of towns and cathedral cities, and their growth potential, seem more influential than heritage.  Detailed studies of the plan-making process in 20 historic towns since 2012 showed that most plans provided some basis for heritage protection at the whole town scale.  Critical to what was achieved was the cultural approach of councillors – whether they saw heritage as beneficial to a town’s distinctiveness and economy or a burden and drag on investment.  This affected the number of Conservation Officers employed, evidence commissioned, policies adopted and decisions taken.


The research highlighted the methodologies used for reconciling growth with the interests of historic settlements, concentrating on good practice examples.  Nine methodologies were studied in detailed case studies across eight cities:

-  view cones with unimpeded sightlines into Oxford from surrounding viewpoints;

-  design responses to the historic environment to allow urban intensification in Chester;

-  building height limits and avoiding development in the setting of Salisbury;

-  an urban extension in Winchester;

-  urban containment by the Green Belt in Durham;

-  respecting the historic character of the urban layout in Lichfield;

-  World Heritage Site status in Bath;

-  urban intensification outside the historic core in Cambridge; and

-  new settlements beyond the city, also in Cambridge.

Key lessons from the report were presented to the Historic Towns Forum in November 2014 at its Annual Conference in Chester on Urban expansion and growth in historic towns.  A presentation on Responding to development pressures in Cathedral Cities, summarising the report, was given at a meeting in Parliament of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies in March 2016.  This was arranged by the newly-formed Alliance of Historic Cathedral Cities and Towns (ACT).  An article on Conservation Officers in historic towns, based on the report, was published in 'Context', the magazine of the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation in May 2016.


English Heritage subsequently commissioned Green Balance to investigate the tensions between heritage and growth in two further historic towns which had not benefited from good practice methodologies.  Our additional case studies on Heritage and growth in Canterbury and Heritage and growth in Warwick were was completed in November 2015.

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Key resources:

The sustainable growth of cathedral cities and historic towns.

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Historical Towns Forum (presentation)

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All Party Parliamentary Group (presentation)

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Conservation Officers in historical towns (article)

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Heritage and growth in Canterbury

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Heritage and growth in Warwick

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