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The Project

Medieval markets, ports and fishing harbours, administrative centres, industrial towns, holiday resorts . . . this variety of origins and stories has given the historic towns of Cornwall and Scilly a rich historical and archaeological legacy and created a distinctive and special character for each. Objective 1 and other vital regeneration initiatives will bring major benefits to these towns over the next few years. The Cornwall and Scilly Urban Survey supported this process of change, seeking to ensure that in each case regeneration is based on a thorough understanding of the historic environment and builds upon the existing distinctive character of the place.

CSUS was set up to be a key contributor to regeneration in the region. It is funded by English Heritage, the Objective One Partnership for Cornwall and Scilly (European Regional development Fund) and, in 2002-3, by the South West of England Regional Development Agency. The project is investigating 19 historic towns and creating for each the information base and character assessment which will provide a framework for sustainable action within these historic settlements. CSUS is being carried out by a team located within the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council.

These towns were identified, in consultation with planning, conservation and economic regeneration officers within the seven district, borough and unitary authorities in the region, as those which are likely to be the focus for regeneration. The ‘target’ settlements are:


St Ives









Newquay St Austell


Camelford Launceston Liskeard


Hugh Town 
(St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly).


CSUS was a pioneering initiative aimed directly at cutting across the boundary that traditionally divides conservation and economic development. Nationally, it is the first such project carrying out a characterisation-based assessment of the historic urban environment specifically to inform and support a regional economic regeneration programme. Future regeneration initiatives in other historic settlements, both in Cornwall and further afield, will benefit from the new approach developed by the project.

CSUS reports

CSUS reports present the major findings and recommendations arising from the project’s work on each town. They are complemented by digital data recorded using ESRI's ArcView Geographic Information System (GIS) software, and together the two sources provide comprehensive information on historic development, urban topography, significant components of the historic environment, archaeological potential and historic character. Importantly, the reports also identify opportunities for heritage-led regeneration and positive management of the historic environment. However, they are not intended to be prescriptive design guides, but should rather be used by architects, town planners and regeneration officers to inform future development and planning strategies.

The reports and associated digital resources are shared with the appropriate local authorities; economic regeneration, planning and conservation officers therefore have immediate access to the detailed information generated by the project. Additional information is held in the Cornwall and Scilly Historic Environment Record, maintained by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council.

Extent of the study areas

The history and historic development of each town were investigated and mapped for the whole of the area defined for the settlement by the current Local Plan. However, the detailed characterisation and analysis of urban topography which together form the primary elements of the study are closely focused on the historic urban extent of the settlement. In most cases this is the urban extent shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map, dating to c1907. In some instances, however, such as resorts that developed much of their distinct character during the 1920s and 30s, the study area is based on a later urban extent. Outlying rural settlements which have been incorporated into the modern urban area since 1907 are intentionally excluded from this detailed assessment.


‘The government . . . wants to see more regeneration projects, large and small, going forward on the basis of a clear understanding of the existing historic environment, how this has developed over time and how it can be used creatively to meet contemporary needs.’

(DCMS / DTLR, The Historic Environment: A Force for the Future (2001), 5.2)

Characterisation is in essence the creation of a comprehensive knowledge base on the historic environment. This includes what is known of the settlement’s historic development and the resulting urban topography - the basic components which have contributed to the physical shaping of the historic settlement such as market places, church enclosures, turnpike roads, railways, etc. – together with an overview of the surviving historic fabric, distinctive architectural forms, materials and treatments and the significant elements of town and streetscapes. Characterisation may also provide the basis for assessing the potential for buried and standing archaeological remains and their likely significance, reducing uncertainty for regeneration interests by providing an indication of potential constraints. Overall, the process offers a means of understanding the diverse range of factors which combine to create ‘distinctiveness’ and ‘sense of place’.

Characterisation is also the means whereby the historic environment can itself provide an inspirational matrix for regeneration. It highlights both the 'tears in the urban fabric' wrought by a lack of care in the past and offers an indication of appropriate approaches to their repair. It emphasises the historic continuum which provides the context for current change and into which the regeneration measures of the present must fit if the distinctive and special qualities of each historic town are to be maintained and enhanced. Characterisation is not intended to encourage or provide a basis for imitation or pastiche: rather, it offers a sound basis on which the 21st century can make its own distinct and high-quality contribution to places of enduring value.

Understanding each town's character

In addition to assessing the broad elements of settlement character which define the settlement as a whole, the CSUS investigation identified distinct character areas within each town’s historic urban extent. These character areas are differentiated from each other by their varied historic origins, functions and resultant urban topography, by the processes of change which have affected each subsequently (indicated, for example, by the relative completeness or loss of historic fabric, or significant changes in use and status) and the extent to which these elements and processes are evident in the current townscape. In simple terms, each character area may be said to have its own individual ‘biography’ which has determined its present character.

The character areas offer a means of understanding the past and the present. In turn, that understanding provides the basis for a positive approach to planning future change which will maintain and reinforce the historic character and individuality of each area - sustainable local distinctiveness.

Character-led regeneration

Characterising the historic environment of each settlement will produce a valuable dataset on the historic fabric, archaeological potential and townscape character of the historic town. This information can certainly be used as a conventional conservation and planning tool to define constraints, as a yardstick against which to measure new development and policy proposals and as the basis of well founded conservation management, restoration and enhancement schemes and policies.

More importantly, however, characterisation also reveals the essential dynamic factors underpinning each settlement's character. Regeneration planning which is informed and inspired by these elements can take a much more sure-footed and proactive approach to creating beneficial change, both reinforcing and enhancing existing character and ensuring that new developments are better integrated into the existing urban framework, more focused and ultimately more successful.

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