Press Release

Press Release

New Chair appointed

The Historic Towns Forum (HTF) announced the appointment of Debbie Dance as their new Chairman at last week’s Annual General Meeting held at Chichester. This appointment marks a major move forward for the HTF.

Debbie Dance, who is widely recognised for her part in the £40m Oxford Castle project in her role as Director of the Oxford Preservation Trust, brings to the organisation a wide range of skills and a broad perspective on the management of historic towns. A commercial property surveyor by profession, Debbie has been involved in conservation for many years and has led a number of successful projects most notably in Birmingham and Oxford. Debbie is a champion for heritage and education in Oxford and holds a range of national and local appointments relating to the built heritage.

Outgoing Chair, Sam Howes (Deputy Chief Executive at Chichester District Council) welcomed Debbie and said that she had impressed the appointment panel with her enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the role of Chair and the work of the Forum. “In short, Debbie will provide the HTF with strong leadership and new ideas which can only be of substantial benefit especially during these challenging economic times,” he stated.

Director, Chris Winter, said that she was very impressed by Debbie’s work and her holistic approach to historic towns and was looking forward to working with her. “The HTF”, she added, “was not alone in feeling the impact of the recession but she was confident that with continuing support and strong leadership the organisation would continue to develop and offer guidance and advocacy on all aspects of managing the historic built environment.”

Introducing herself to the HTF Members at the AGM Debbie said “I am delighted to be taking on this role at HTF. Bringing together the skills I have in working across the commercial and charity sectors and combining this with the strong local authority links at HTF will make a powerful force. HTF is unique in giving opportunity to those of us involved in historic towns to share our experiences and to give this group a voice. I look forward to making my contribution to this.”


Notes for editors Information about the Historic Towns Forum, its Membership, good practice guidance publications and activities can be obtained from or by contacting the office on 0117 975 0459 or the Director –, or Chair –  The Historic Towns Forum (HTF) – formerly English Historic Towns Forum (EHTF) - has been supporting professionals working in the historic built environment since 1987.

The Forum’s events and publications focus on perennial and topical issues, drawing together practitioners across the disciplines and sectors. This collective then offers a strong platform from which to lobby policy makers on behalf of historic towns and cities. HTF, through its Membership and Partnership schemes, offers everyone with an interest in the historic towns and cities of UK and Ireland an opportunity to exchange and develop ideas, and facilitates exchange with European colleagues.

Response to Draft PPS 15

“…latest statement on conservation and planning is not fit for purpose…”

“Conserving our heritage is fundamental to the quality of life people enjoy in our towns and cities, yet we are concerned that the Government’s latest statement on conservation and planning is not fit for purpose”, says Debbie Dance, Chair of the Historic Towns Forum, commenting in the draft Planning Policy Statement 15: Planning for the Historic Environment (PPS15).

The Forum initially welcomed the publication of Draft PPS15 for consultation but, having now studied its content, it is extremely concerned and disappointed at certain of its messages. The Forum believes that it is fundamentally compromised by the failure to enact the Heritage Protection Bill, without which it appears vague and may be open to legal challenge.

Concepts such as ‘heritage assets’, ‘significance’, ‘Heritage Partnership Agreements’ and ‘local lists’ will have no statutory basis.

“The PPS needs a strong vision statement that endorses heritage in its own right and the Government must bring forward the legislation at the earliest possible opportunity”, urged Ms Dance.

While there are some details in the PPS that the Forum supports, it poses more questions than it answers, in particular by:

  • weakening protection by undermining the presumption in favour of retention of historic buildings and fabric;
  • relying on the untested concept of ‘significance’ as the basis for conservation;
  • weakness in dealing with the relationship between heritage conservation and climate change;
  • failing to show how conservation fits within the wider planning, social and economic responsibilities of local authorities;
  • failing to strengthen the protection of non-designated heritage in Conservation Areas;
  • failing to address landscape as part of the heritage;
  • the omission of disability assess issues; and
  • a superficial consideration of the resource implications for local authorities, for example in the preparation of Historic Environment Records.

A fundamental concern about the Policy Statement is that it sees heritage protection in isolation. In practice conservation of the broad cultural and historic environment is a multi-dimensional, multi-agency matter. It is not simply, or even largely, about the protection of a fixed heritage: the conservation of sense of place, identity and local distinctiveness are essential.

The draft PPS makes little reference to matters such as the public realm, historic streetscapes and undesignated heritage at risk; there is no mention of roads, statutory undertakers and management of the public domain.

Debbie Dance said, “The Forum is, however, pleased that a draft has been published for consultation as this has engendered a full debate around the ongoing issues of heritage protection. We are keen to work closely with the Government Departments and English Heritage to get effective guidance backed up by legislation.”

HTF response to draft PPS 15