Conservation Areas are areas “of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”.
There is a legal requirement:
- to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of Conservation Areas,
- to exercise control over the demolition of unlisted buildings located within those areas, and
- a restriction on the types of development that may be carried out without the need for planning permission (permitted development rights).
Conservation Area Appraisals
English Heritage recommends that Local Authorities conduct a formal appraisal of each Conservation Area in order “to understand and articulate exactly why the area is special and what elements within the area contribute to this special quality and which don’t”.
In addition, Local Authorities are required to carry out reviews of Conservation Areas “from time to time”.
There is no statutory frequency for these reviews, but “good practice is generally accepted to be every 5 years”.
Unfortunately, it seems that there is very little expectation of this aim being achieved in practice. Local Authorities facing constant downward pressure on budgets are understandably reluctant to conduct expensive appraisals or reviews, except where development pressures justify the commitment of resources to a particular Conservation Area. From the Local Authorities’ perspective, the vast majority of the Settle-Carlisle Railway Conservation Area (SCRCA) is ‘plain railway’ where Network Rail is viewed as the most likely source of pressure for change.
With regard to appraisals / reviews of the SCRCA, the current position for the four relevant Local Authorities is as follows:
- Craven District Council (CDC): CDC reviewed the Settle Town Conservation Area in 2008, but this review specifically excluded the SCRCA. The YDNPA conducted a “Conservation Area Review And Character Appraisal” for Long Preston in 2010, but this too excluded the SCRCA. CDC is currently without a full-time Conservation Officer and appears to have no plans to conduct a formal appraisal / review of their section of the SCRCA. However, a member of the planning staff has kindly provided the Project Team with a scan of an area plan which shows the boundary of the SCRCA between Hellifield and Langcliffe (the latter being the CDC's northern boundary).
- The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA): The YDNPA published a comprehensive appraisal of its section of the SCRCA in 2010. This 80-page publication entitled: "Conservation Area Appraisals in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - Settle-Carlisle Railway - Adopted Document" is available as a 4Mb pdf-file download from:
- Eden District Council (EDC): An internet search for Conservation Area appraisals / reviews relating to the EDC section of the SCRCA produced no results. An e-mail sent to EDC requesting information on this subject has not received a response and there is little to be gained from pursuing it at this stage as, like CDC, EDC currently has no full-time Conservation Officer. However, the EDC website does provide links to a series of fourteen plans showing the boundaries of the SCRCA through the district and these are available for download in pdf-file format from:
- Carlisle City Council (CCC): The Heritage Officer at CCC has advised us that they might conduct a formal appraisal, if they have the resources to do so. The “Conservation areas” page of the CCC website does provide links to a series of five plans showing the boundaries of some parts of the SCRCA within the district and these are available for download in pdf-file format from:
On pages 8-9 of their ‘Conservation Area Appraisal’ (op. cit.), the YDNPA proposes that:
"The Settle-Carlisle Railway is not a relic from the past but an interactive feature of the present that is in daily use. It is also a feature of the future due to its continuing operation and potential for further research or education, regarding its history and interpretation of the landscape. Much of the archaeology of the Settle-Carlisle has yet to be unravelled. Another source that has not yet been fully recorded or researched are the lineside structures which seemingly have little architectural merit, but are essential to the understanding of how this railway was operated."
On pages 77-78 of the same document, the YDNPA outline a number of management proposals for the SCRCA, most notably:
- “Establish a local list for unlisted buildings that contribute positively to the character and appearance of the conservation area."
- "Safeguard viewing opportunities from the line and ensure that the quality of views is maintained;"
- "conserve and enhance opportunities to view and interpret the line and its associated features as local and regional landmarks in the Yorkshire Dales scenery."
- "Where operational structures and buildings, such as signal boxes and semaphores, become redundant seek to conserve in situ; where this is not possible relocate elsewhere on the line."
- "Photographic survey of remaining platelayers’ huts in the National Park.”
The SCRCA Project Team would like to help turn these proposals into a reality for the full length of the conservation area.
Evaluating structures under threat of alteration or demolition / removal
“Conservation areas are designated heritage assets and as such there is a national presumption in favour of their conservation.”
The current condition of a structure should not necessarily influence the decision regarding its relative importance and / or the importance of conserving / preserving it:
“The state of repair of a building is not a relevant consideration when deciding whether a building meets the test of special interest. The Secretary of State will list a building which has been assessed as meeting the statutory criteria, irrespective of its state of repair.”
“Demolition of a building which is a positive contributor to the architectural and / or historic interest will almost inevitably result in substantial harm or loss of significance to the conservation area. ... An application for a proposal which will lead to substantial harm or total loss of significance should be refused unless it can be demonstrated that
“(i) The substantial harm to or loss of significance is necessary in order to deliver substantial public benefits that outweigh the harm or loss; or
“(ii) (a) the nature of the asset prevents all reasonable uses of the site; and
“(b) no viable use of the heritage asset itself can be found in the medium term
that will enable its conservation; and conservation through grant funding
or charitable / public ownership is not possible; and
“(c) the harm to or loss of the asset is outweighed by the benefits of bringing
the site back into use.”
Taken together, the above appears to firmly support a policy of 'maintain the current state'. However, the railway that lies at the heart of the SCRCA is NOT a preserved railway. Rather, it is an important part of the national rail-network and a vital north-south route for both passenger and freight traffic. The viability of these passenger and freight services could be jeopardised if the cost of maintaining or operating the railway is increased by the imposition of unduly onerous maintenance / repair costs – especially for historic structures that are now operationally redundant. The challenge facing everyone involved with the SCRCA is to balance the need for essential (and highly beneficial) improvements to the operational railway, with the desirability of conserving / preserving / enhancing the historic railway engineering and architecture that gives the SCRCA its unique character.
The historical precedent for embracing 'managed change'
An enormous amount of change has occurred along the route of the railway between Hellifield and Carlisle since it became fully operational in 1876. For example:
- The vast majority of the original signal boxes were replaced within thirty years of the line’s opening. Furthermore, of the forty locations known to have hosted a signal box at one time or another, only 12 still retain a standing signal box.
- Signalling equipment has been removed or replaced with modern equivalents on a regular basis in response to changing regulations and improvements in technology.
- Redundant occupation and accommodation bridges were being removed as early as 1915 and at least 15 have already been demolished or in-filled.
- Many of the remaining bridges have been altered to replace bridge-decks, strengthen arches, install handrails, or otherwise make them fit for 21st century use.
- Cuttings and embankments have been re-engineered to reduce the risk of landslips. The vegetation on the sloping sides of these structures was meticulously trimmed and grazed for decades to maintain visibility, reduce the risk and severity of fire and as a display of pride; in more recent times these areas were allowed to grow wild - to 'revert to nature'; now, these areas are being actively managed again to reduce the problem of 'leaves on the line' and the ever present danger of landslips.
- Almost all of the wooden-sleepered, fish-plate jointed track was replaced with steel-sleepered continuous-welded rail and the vast majority of this has, in turn, been replaced with concrete-sleepered continuous-welded rail.
- Passenger platforms at open stations have been raised and / or re-surfaced, while the platforms at many of the closed stations have been either partially or entirely demolished.
- Redundant telegraph poles (and associated wires) have been removed from all but a few miles of the SCRCA's length.
- New passenger-related structures have been constructed at most of the open stations (e.g. the new northbound platform and waiting room at Ribblehead; new waiting rooms at Settle, Garsdale, Kirkby Stephen, and Langwathby (with plans for two more); 'preserved' passenger footbridges at Settle and Kirkby Stephen; and modern 'heritage-style' lighting at all of the open stations). Redundant structures have been demolished at several stations (most notably at Long Preston, Crosby Garrett and Cotehill).
- Goods yards and siding areas have been left to revert to nature, de-tracked, used for non-railway purposes, or built-upon (the most notable in the latter category being the former goods yards at Petteril Bridge Junction and Settle).
What does all this mean for the SCRCA Project?
Despite more than a century of change, a significant (and perhaps a surprising) number of historic structures have survived, many in (or close to) their original form. However, the pressure for change is relentless and it is driven by a wide-range of financial, operational, technological and social / cultural factors. If the best of what remains is to survive to be enjoyed by future generations, the change process will need to be carefully managed on a permanent and continuous basis. This extremely difficult task will be made slightly easier if everyone involved has easy access to a comprehensive database of accurate and well-researched information about the remaining historic structures. The mission of the SCRCA Project Team is to provide that information.
- Source: Section 69(1)(a) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
- These three sentences have been summarised / quoted from: “Understanding Place: Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management”, English Heritage (2011).
- Source: First item, Table 1, page 7 of “Understanding Place: Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management”, English Heritage (2011).
- Source: General Principle 16 of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport publication “Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings” (2010)
- Source: Paragraph 6, page 21 of “Understanding Place: Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management” (English Heritage, 2011)
- Of the 12 remaining signal boxes: 10 are still in operational use (the box at Garsdale has some serious structural problems but Network Rail's application for listed building consent for the necessary remedial work was accepted by the YDNPA on 6th November 2013) and 2 are preserved (Armathwaite Station and Settle Station - the latter after being physically moved several hundred yards). The box at Long Meg Sidings (built in 1955, disused since 1983) was demolished as recently as January 2013.
- The annotated land plans kindly donated to the FoSCL archive by a retired senior railway engineer indicate that 13 bridges between Settle Junction and Peterril Junction had been filled-in or demolished prior to 2012 (almost certainly in order to reduce inspection & maintenance costs). The demolished bridges are:
Bridge No 087 (occupation - demolished 1970)
Bridge No 099 (occupation - demolished)
Bridge No 138 (occupation - demolished)
Bridge No 142 (occupation - demolished 1975)
Bridge No 143 (occupation - demolished approx 1936)
Bridge No 144 (occupation - demolished approx 1948)
Bridge No 163 (occupation - demolished)
Bridge No 170 (occupation - demolished 1927)
Bridge No 174 (occupation - demolished 1927)
Bridge No 176 (occupation - infilled 2009)
Bridge No 351 (occupation - demolished 19/9/1920)
Bridge No 355 (footpath - demolished, release to remove dated 1/11/1960)
Bridge No 357 (occupation - demolished Jan 1915)
Text and photographs by Mark R. Harvey (© Mark R. Harvey).