Help The Austin Village keep its Conservation Status

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The Austin Village gained its conservation status in 1997 due to the hard work of The Austin Village Preservation Society. The reason it gained conservation status was due to the historical significance of the Village. The Village was constructed to house the workers at the nearby Longbridge Austin Motor Company, who were employed to help with the war effort by manufacturing munitions. As far as we know, there are no other villages made solely for the purpose of contributing to the war effort in this way. This Village is an epitaph for The Great War, a pivotal moment in our country’s history that should not be forgotten. It is for this reason that the conservation status was awarded. The architecture is part of the story but it is not the most important element of the history. 

In recent years there has been much controversy due to the details of Article 4 (part of the conservation documentation), which details that all alterations to houses and their gardens, that can be seen from the street, require planning permission. Since Article 4 has been enforced, residents have been denied planning permission for such things as cladding their houses in white UVPC, double glazing and new driveways among others. These alterations enable residents to keep their homes in an acceptable living condition. Article 4 suggests that residents need to replace parts of their homes like for like. The houses are made from Canadian Cedar. This comes at quite a cost. One that many retired residents are unable to afford. This is why the opinion of the Village residents is mixed. The Austin Village Preservation Society promoted keeping the conservation status whilst modifying Article 4, for this area, to allow residents to maintain their homes to an acceptable standard at a suitable cost. This would mean that the status would highlight the historical significance of the area, whilst making it an appropriately affordable place to reside. To clarify Article 4 is separate to the conservation status. The village can hold conservation status without Article 4. According  to the Governments own website, It mentions that a local planning authority can not only cancel an Article 4 but also modify it - it's not just a case of either it's there or it's not.

We (the residents) received correspondence from Birmingham City Council recently explaining that the council intend to remove the Village’s conservation status stating that “the Austin Village Conservation Area no longer holds the level of special architectural and historical interest required for conservation area designation”. However the original conservation documentation details that Austin Village gains its status due to it being “of special architectural or historic interest”. It seems that a false emphasis has been placed upon the material authenticity of the architecture and the conversation has been manipulated away from the historical nature of the Village. The Village should be able to keep its conservation status regardless of the material authenticity of the architecture. Although the architecture may have been altered in individual cases over time, the historic significance of the Village cannot change.

When the conservation status was established, many homes were already modified with such things a UPVC doors and windows. This did not stop the status being established because it is not just about the materiality of the buildings. Alongside the historical origins of the Village, there are other Architectural elements such as the unique geometric layout of the village, which is clearly evident today. All the bungalows with their single story, double pitched forms, projecting porches and regular spacing/geometric layout still exist in all their glory. This is of particular architectural interest because at that time, the broader urban context, in the UK, consisted of two story masonry dwellings.

For me personally I believe that history is something we should learn from. Here is a Village that was built to last for around 5 years or so and it has flourished for over a century! The love that people put into these homes has allowed them to survive. Birmingham City Council didn't consider them as permanent structures until the 60's. For me this is proof of good architecture. I firmly believe that the new builders of today could learn a thing or two from this village.

Historic England say that 'change is inevitable, and often beneficial' and describes areas as being at risk due to things like being vacant, decaying, neglected or damaged. These bungalows have been preserved by people living in them continually, although this has also been a reason for them changing over time, as they have been adapted for use as peoples' homes. Without residents being able to maintain them, the bungalows would not necessarily remain habitable.

It seems as though the bureaucracy does not have the interests of the people, or our counties heritage at heart. The Austin Village is an area of unique significance in a sensitive socioeconomic situation. This requires unique and sensitive attention, which unfortunately the Council seem unable or unwilling to address and act accordingly. 

Thankfully we are not by ourselves. There are groups that support us and appreciate the intricacies of the situation;

English Heritage ,now Historic England, was a body that originally encouraged AVPS to apply for conservation status on the grounds of historic interest. Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England's spectacular historic environment. They manage the Heritage at Risk Register, which lists those sites most in need of safeguarding for the future. It has local Heritage at Risk teams which 'strive to find solutions for sites at risk'. The Austin Village is on that list. Birmingham City Council are required to do contact Historic England as part of their recommendation for withdrawal of conservation status. We hope that their words hold some weight and we will be contacting Historic England to make sure Birmingham City council has engaged with them. We hope to report back to the residents the outcome of this.

The Birmingham Civic Society is an organisation which seems to have a deep understanding of The Austin Village. We have a copy of a letter sent to Birmingham City Council, from the Civic society, sent during the previous consultation period. Within this letter they state "We do not support the cancellation (de-designation) of Austin Village Conservation Area on the grounds the special architectural, historic interest and character of the area is clearly evident today. Although we accept that there has been a number of alterations to the historic fabric of the dwellings, these alterations are not the determinate to the overall appearance of the conservation area." They continue to advise Birmingham City Council as to how they could proceed to assist and work with the residents, to help preserve and enhance their homes. A copy of this letter is be posted on The AVPS Facebook page

The latest correspondence from the Council states that they are now consulting with the residents once again before removing the conservation status. They are asking to be contacted via Julie Shaduwa, Principal Conservation Officer, Directorate of Inclusive Growth, Planning and Development, PO Box 28, Birmingham, B1 1TU by no later than 20th of June 2019.The Austin Village Preservation Society will be sending a letter to Julie Shaduwa explaining the nature of the situation and emphasising that removing the conservation status all together is simply not good enough. There needs to be a more appropriate resolution. This is not just about the residents of the Village. This is about the history of our country. So please, if you feel that the historical significance of The Austin Village is worth preserving, contact Julie Shaduwa expressing your concern even if you are not a resident. Alternatively sign our petition to keep the conservation status but alter/remove Article 4 to address the delicate socioeconomic situation.

If your interested in find out more about the villages history please visit 

Chris Pollard

Chair of The Austin Village Preservation Society