A meeting to consider extending the Dulwich Village Conservation Area was held at the St Barnabas Parish Hall on 30th September. Kieran Bartlett, Southwark Council's Conservation Officer, explained the what, the why, and how of conservation areas and a lively discussion ensued. Unfortunately many were unable to hear the contributions from the audience, or even Kieran himself. The Planning Department had provided a splendid ten-page handout showing historical maps of the area, and spelling out the basics, but unfortunately, Southwark's Graphics Department had failed to provide a map showing the extent of the current conservation area! And at least one road that would have been affected had not been notified of the meeting. However, Kieran stressed that this was only the beginning of the consultation process, and, if the council decided to go further, there would be more consultation. Meanwhile, he stressed the importance of sending letters with our views to his office (address below). But first the facts:

A Conservation Area is: "An area of special architectural or historic importance, the character of which it is desirable to enhance and protect."

The special character of the Dulwich Village Conservation Area is officially described as:

  • A semi-rural atmosphere, derived from the retained character of the historic village.
  • Fine houses, and the occupation of these houses as single family dwellings.
  • Wide grass verges and mature trees.
  • Attractive shops facing onto an historic high street.
  • A quiet atmosphere.

The Dulwich Village Conservation Area might be extended because:

  • The current designation does not include some of the historic routes to and from Dulwich Village.
  • Also the current boundaries exclude some fine listed buildings and open land, which would benefit from additional protection.

When Conservation Areas were first established, Dulwich Village was one of the earliest ,in 1968. During the past thirty-five years it has remained the same size, but it is clear that if it had been created now, under current policy, it would have been larger. So when a number of local people began to write to his department asking to have their streets included, the council thought it was time to look at the boundaries again. Indeed, they have a statutory duty to keep boundaries of conservation areas under review.

Currently the boundaries are well within the boundaries of the Dulwich Estate on the west and south, though they run together on the eastern side (see sketch plan). Possibly the boundaries of the Conservation Area could be altered to coincide more nearly with those of the Estate.

Basically, being in a conservation area affects the criteria for planning permission for certain works. Being within the Area will not increase the bureaucracy. Within the Dulwich Estate, we already have to submit two applications for planning; the council one costs £110, the Estate one anything from £50 upwards. Would there be a further fee? No, the status of Conservation Area affects what the Council Planning Department can allow but the Conservation Officer works within that department, liasing closely with other planning officers.

What advantages would it bring to residents? Is the area not already protected adequately by the Dulwich Estate? "No" said Michelle Pearce, one of our local councillors. "When the Woodyard site was being developed, the Estate had in mind to build a large number of small houses of no architectural merit. Instead, because it was already in a Conservation Area, the council prevented this, and refused planning permission until an alternative plan for larger homes, more space, and some interesting architecture was developed."

In a Conservation Area, the council would have power to prevent the demolition of large old houses to make way for smaller modern ones. There are still a few large old houses just outside the area which the Estate might feel tempted to demolish and replace and extending the area could give these protection, but only if the individual houses or the street in which they lay was held to have historical or architectural merit.

The council would be able to impose stricter limits on the size of extensions and the provision of dormer windows than it does now. Probably these new limits would be similar to those currently imposed by the Estate.

A priority of the conservation team in Southwark is to preserve the large areas of open land surrounding the Village, as part of the original pattern of Dulwich. Another priority is to include the historic routes into the Village, and buildings of historic interest along the way, including North Dulwich Station. To do this, they will have to include roads enclosing the open areas, even if these roads do not themselves possess an architectural or historic character meriting Conservation Area status. This is normal practice in Conservation Areas, and these roads are referred to in appraisals as 'neutral areas'.

It was pointed out by Cllr. Pearce and others, that the Dulwich Estate, unlike the Council, never consulted residents, and although the Estate's rule was generally benign, there was no way of finding out why a particular ruling had been made and no recourse against it. This, she claimed, was unlike the council's more transparent way of working.

The whole consultation, even with its poor organisation, was infinitely better than any consultation the Estate has ever had (has it ever had any?). The Council has chosen to consult with residents on this issue, although not obliged to do so. It is clear that the council's regulations are open to all and their application is closely monitored by our elected representatives.

This was primarily a preliminary consultation for residents in the affected areas. Questions and comments related largely to how the change would affect the wider community. Would the council's efforts, for instance be better spent in preserving other areas in Southwark?

It would seem logical to bring the boundaries of the Conservation Area more into line with the boundaries of the Estate. There would be double protection against unsympathetic development and some extra protection from arbitrary behaviour by the Estate when dealing with its own land.

As a consultation for residents, it reached a very definite conclusion. Well over a hundred were present, and on a show of hands the great majority were in favour of extending the Conservation Area.

Report by Margaret Hanton

If you would like to write with your views, the address is;

Design and Conservation Team
London Borough of Southwark
Chiltern Building
Portland Street
London SE17 2ES

The Dulwich Society Newsletter would also welcome its members' views.

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