Why is it that conservation areas in our cities, towns and villages are such popular places to live, work and shop? Why is it so pleasant to walk down a particular street. drive through a country village with its church, cottages and farms, or visit a country house and gardens? Britain's historic buildings - of all types - have a vitally important role to play in our daily lives.
Without even realising it, we are constantly passing and using historic buildings and areas, visiting the local library or town hall, high street shops, the cinema or pub, the public park or hospital.
Some will be recognised as being of architectural and historic value, but there are others of more modest appearance which would nevertheless be sorely missed if they disappeared. On the whole, these are the buildings most vulnerable to demolition.
However, we are still faced with proposals for unsuitable new developments threatening the setting of more outstanding buildings; and hundreds of listed buildings and churches stand empty and neglected, and at risk.
Many people think it is hard to assess whether a building is worth preserving and ask what the criteria are for trying to save it. At SAVE we ask ourselves three simple questions:
1 - How important, architecturally or historically, is the building?
If it is listed, then it has been officially recognised by English Heritage and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as being of special interest; it has statutory protections and, in the words of the government planning guidance note, '"once lost, listed buildings cannot be replaced . . they represent finite resource and an irreplaceable asset". Buildings are not listed lightly: they have to come up to strict standards to qualify.
If it is not listed, should it be? There are still many buildings that are not listed simply because they have not yet been properly surveyed, or have somehow slipped through the net.
Even though it may not qualify for listing, the building may have interesting features - architectural details, original doors or internal fittings. It may be that the weathered materials from which it is built are particularly attractive and there is something about the buildings that is pleasing to the eye - the soft red brick or golden stone, patterned brickwork or decorative iron work.
2 - Is the building in a conservation area?
Many buildings make a significant contribution to the local scene and may be an important part of the townscape. A church with its spire or tower will be a noticeable landmark. A row of Victorian town houses will be an attractive element of the street. The corner shop with its original shopfront may be a rare survivor in a redeveloped area. Once demolished these buildings will be missed.
Conservation areas are areas of special architectural interest and historic character. They are designated by local authorities which must then pay special attention to any applications to demolish or build anew within the area's boundaries.
Even if a building is not listed, special consent ("conservation area consent") must be sought to demolish it; so conservation area designation is a useful form of protection for unlisted buildings.
3 - If the building is no longer needed for its original purpose, could it be put to a new use?
SAVE believes, and has proved time and time again, that all types of historic buildings can have a new lease of life through conversion, offering potential and exciting challenges for developers and architects. Some of the most imaginative and interesting places to work and visit are converted historic buildings. They have proved enormously successful in both commercial and aesthetic terms.
Even if the building is in poor repair, modern building techniques are able to solve many structural problems that were deemed insoluble some years ago.
Building conservation is inherently environmentally sustainable; it is a way of using existing resources for an end-product that is unique and irreplaceable.
One more question you might ask yourself is: Is it Worth the Fight? If you feel that it will be too much of an uphill struggle to save a building, take heart from others' achievements.
In the late 1970s, many of the cases SAVE was involved with caused ridicule amongst our critics.
But the recognition since of the tremendous value of historic buildings of all types, the successful conversion of buildings for new uses and a public determination that history will not repeat itself in terms of the demolition and desecration that was then taking place, have inspired us - and many local amenity societies, preservation trusts, action groups and individuals - to carry on campaigning.
The Public Inquiry opens at 10.00 am on Tuesday, 11 February 2014, and is scheduled to last for 12 days, until Friday, 28 February.
Monday 20th January, 18.30
The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, London