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  • Writer's pictureTouring the Past

Conservation management plans: TEN things a client should know

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

For any lay person involved in a heritage site, the news that a Conservation Management Plan (or CMP) is required can cause an involuntary shudder. This is a response Touring the Past can sympathise with as these often substantial reports can conjure up unpalatable images of excess costs, strait-jacket policies and the erosion of reasonable economic use. However, this gloomy scenario should never be the case for a well-handled CMP. At Touring the Past, we work to simplify the process, address complications early and decisively and dig deep for consensus, practical outcomes and informed change. CMPs should be positive plans that value-add to your stewardship of a heritage site and goals as an owner.

Touring the Past - Conservation Management Plan, CMP, Touring the Past blog
Proposed changes to some heritage places will require the preparation of Conservation Management Plans: one of the most powerful tools for conservation and preservation of our material and natural heritage. (Image: View towards the Presbyterian Church at Hill End. Author’s collection)

Not convinced yet? Want to know more about CMPs generally? Or get the inside track on their preparation and benefits? Then read on to discover the TEN things all clients should know about Conservation Management Plans.

1. In a nutshell, a CMP should provide clarity on why and how a place matters and, based on this knowledge, develop management policies that both retain and enhance this value.

Linking the management of a heritage place to its significance is the central purpose of a CMP and it is worthwhile noting the rule of thumb that the better understood a heritage site, the more possible it becomes to introduce well thought-through changes.

2. The reasons why you might need a CMP are varied

Generally speaking, these reports are required by local or State planning authorities when an owner proposes change to an identified heritage place which is of particular importance and complexity, geographically large in scale or of heightened community interest. In some cases, a proposed development might benefit from the presence of a CMP or its preparation could also form a condition of consent. Many types of heritage sites and some types of changes will not require a CMP. In these cases, an alternative report (or combination of reports), like a Heritage Impact Assessment, Maintenance Plan, Interpretation Strategy or even Conservation Management Strategy (basically a slimmer CMP) will suffice. You should always try to engage a heritage consultant at the front end of a proposal to provide their professional opinion on the type of heritage report required and then to enter into knowledgeable discussion with the relevant authorities on your behalf. On occasion, the savviness of the consultant may begin in something of a ‘haggling’ process with decision-makers and end in a reduction of resource expenditure for both parties.

Touring the Past - Conservation Management Plan, CMP, Touring the Past blog
While not always defined by size, complex and sensitive heritage sites, will often require a greater foundation of knowledge and understanding before decisions about change and ongoing management can be made. A CMP is often, but not always, the most effective tool to achieve this. (Image: Bedervale homestead, Braidwood. Author’s collection)

3. Widely accepted conservation processes underline CMPs.

The composition of these specialist heritage reports should reflect the principles and process defined by the ICOMOS Australia, Burra Charter, 2013, paired with the best-practice defining approaches of James S. Kerr’s, The Conservation Plan, 2013. In addition, the preparation of a CMP should be a collaborative affair drawing in, where relevant, the positions of the owner-developer, relevant Indigenous groups, pertinent communities, authorities and individual knowledge holders. The achievement of a solid degree of consensus is an under-appreciated facet of strong CMPs.

4. CMP policies are not meant to be a series of restrictive rulesConservation guidelines should be achievable and pragmatic. The right polices will not develop without a good deal of work and will often involve vigorous debate. Policies that withstand scrutiny will be closely related to and cross-referenced with the significance of the site’s (often) various elements. Always, a balance between the conservation of significance and everyday reality should be sought.

5. Change should be managed intelligently, not forbidden.

A CMP should discuss current and future uses in terms of their feasibility and compatibility, explore a myriad of issues (such as adaptive re-use vs demolition, reconstruction and restoration and problems of structural integrity) and provide guidance to the siting, scale and characteristics of future change as well as clearly translating legislative requirements and owner obligations (like the Minimum Standards of Maintenance and Repair for sites on the State Heritage Register) and risk management.

6. CMPs should not ignore the aspirations and resources of the owner-developer.

Alongside taking into account the constraints and opportunities flowing from a site’s heritage significance, a CMP should actively factor in the desires and capacity of the owner. Such reports can be eloquent advocates for respecting resource limits and promoting reasonable expectations.

7. Prioritise expenditure and structure ongoing management.

Dealing with heritage sites can be costly. One of the benefits of a CMP is its dealing with issues of structural integrity, repair and maintenance. These ‘nuts and bolts’ sections are deceptively important. Not only do they separate the urgent from the short, medium and long term but they define site-specific approaches, materials and required expertise. Seen collectively, such information enables clear management plans to be set in place and resources to be allocated strategically and on the basis of necessity.

Touring the Past - Conservation Management Plan, CMP, Touring the Past blog
CMPs will often identify elements of significance beyond buildings – spaces, fabric, layouts, relationships and landscape features may also be of or contribute value. It is always better to have such elements identified upfront rather than at the last stage of a design process. (Image: Fencing at Hill End. Author’s collection)

8. CMPs ease contention and ‘untangle’ heritage sites

In the long run, CMPs are value-add documents, which routinely cause decision-making on the part of authorities to be made in a more confident and effective manner. They are not generally considered THE heritage management tool for nothing. Where a good CMP – one that is carefully researched and well-reasoned – exists it provides a fulcrum for the reconciliation of debate and disagreement, that in turn reduces the need for litigation. Further, CMPs are not ‘one hit’ reports. If endorsed by the relevant bodies and future changes prove to be consistent with its policies, their presence can infirm and support development applications at a later date.

9. The provision of a healthy CMP can be crucial for accessing heritage related benefits.

These benefits range from heritage-related land valuation reviews (which can lead to land tax and rate relief) to State and local heritage grants. While we do not think anyone is wholly satisfied with the current NSW heritage incentives, there are grants available that can be employed for a multitude of heritage purposes (talk to us – we are canny grant application writers at Touring the Past). In addition, CMPs can enable access to a handy range of non-standard, site-specific exemptions that do away with application fees and lengthy waiting periods down the track.

10. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, CMPs should avoid the appearance of a pre-determined outcome.

They should do this religiously. Heftiness and esoteric jargon will not conceal a CMP written with an agenda. Such reports will be unlikely to withstand scrutiny – be it community or statutory – and nearly always cause additional grief and delays. A CMP should strive for historical accuracy, simplicity, clarity and relevance, be capable of deployment and, in the estimable language of Kerr, be ‘free of overt propaganda’.

We hope the above points are of some use. Perhaps they have prompted questions or a realisation that the sooner a CMP is started the better (or that an out-dated report needs a review) – whatever your inquiry or question, Touring the Past has the specialist conservation background to assist you.

Talking to us is the first stage in getting your heritage matters in order.

Touring the Past - Conservation Management Plan, CMP, Touring the Past blog
Kitchen fire place tinged with the smoke of innumerable fires. (Image: Bedervale homestead, outside Braidwood. Author’s collection)


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