Shortly after our last Newsletter was produced, English Heritage published a report summarising the results of its national survey of Conservation Areas. The headline conclusion was '1 in 7 Conservation Areas is at risk from neglect, decay or inappropriate change'. The list of 'at risk' areas included 8 in Liverpool, and we were not surprised to discover that one of these was Wavertree Village.
In some respects the list was misleading. It was not based on an independent survey by English Heritage investigators, but instead on an online questionnaire completed by local council officials. So authorities like Liverpool City Council, which co-operated with the survey, were inevitably those which hit the headlines, while councils which failed to respond - in some cases because they don't even employ a conservation officer - were not on the 'blacklist' at all. But there is no doubting that the state of Wavertree Village - a Conservation Area since 1979 - demands an explanation.
The first remedy suggested by English Heritage, to prevent the further deterioration of Conservation Areas, is for local councils to obtain what is called an Article 4 Direction from the government. This allows them to insist on planning permission being obtained before 'minor works' - such as window replacement, re-roofing and painting of exterior walls - are carried out. But Article 4 Directions have been in force in both of our local Conservation Areas for over 25 years. The problem is that the restrictions which they impose are rarely enforced by the City Council.
'Lack of resources' is the explanation put forward by council officers; but we would add 'lack of commitment' from Councillors, who too often have failed to authorise enforcement action in cases where officers have recommended it, and 'lack of persistence' by officers who have failed to achieve enforcement even when mandated to do so by elected members and by government Planning Inspectors.
One reason given by our local Councillors, when challenged in the past about their failure to act, is that householders and others have acted in ignorance; they have carried out changes to their property without realising that planning permission is required. But this is partly because the Council has not kept local residents and business people informed of the Conservation Area rules. Moreover, the failure to take speedy enforcement action has led to people assuming that what their neighbours have done is deemed acceptable, and then doing the same thing without even bothering to enquire.
We hope that the situation is about to change for the better. The Council has produced an Advisory Leaflet for the Wavertree Village Conservation Area (it was actually printed in April 2008, but 'lack of resources' meant that it was never distributed) and we are being allowed to deliver it, by hand, to every one of the 1,000+ addresses in the Conservation Area over the next few weeks.
We appreciate the fact that many individuals and organisations have done their best to maintain their properties in an appropriate manner, and to restore some of the Conservation Area's most impressive houses, schools and other buildings to their former splendour. We hope that the distribution of the new leaflet will help to increase awareness of the Conservation Area - and its implications - still further.