An updated record of buildings at risk (BAR) is helping the North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) understand the local heritage resources and target the buildings and owners most in need of assistance.
We now have an accurate record of the condition of the individual elements of each listed building surveyed, the overall condition and risk and the present use and function.Beth Davies, Building Conservation Officer
The NYMNPA is responsible for enhancing and conserving the landscape, natural environment and cultural heritage of an area that encompasses stunning moorland, spectacular coast, ancient woodland, historic sites and important buildings and monuments.
In 2013, the NYMNPA was invited by English Heritage® to take part in an ambitious project to survey all Grade II listed buildings across eight parishes within the National Park. The aim was to assess the condition of these buildings and update risk and enforcement information within the National Park’s back-end database; the Historic Environment Record (HER). At the same time, the authority wanted to move entirely to digital recording of data and ensure that all HER data was reliable, easy to understand and accessible to the public.
This project funded the development of a new application specifically designed to support a condition survey of listed buildings. However, the NYMNPA had only five months in which to procure software developers, develop and test a suitable application, train volunteers, carry out the survey work and compile and process the results.
The NYMNPA chose to work with the geographical information system GIS consultancy exeGesIS, which developed an easy-to-use application that would draw on Ordnance Survey mapping data and run on mobile devices. The new application was loaded onto light, portable tablets then the authority’s existing historic environment volunteers were invited to take part in the project and the NYMNPA IT staff provided training.
At a cost of £13,000 plus hardware costs and licences, the app will, over time, achieve significant savings in paid officer time whilst delivering reliable results and establishing a sustainable system for the future. The methodology for updating our Buildings at Risk Register represents good value for money for the NYMNPA, which is committed to maintaining and using the information collected.Beth Davies, Building Conservation Officer
From the application’s home page, users can navigate to a map that shows the location of listed buildings, with GPS technology pinpointing users’ location on the map. Mapping, historic photos, list description and data from earlier surveys are all available to facilitate accurate building identification.
Through drop-down menus, users can select the material and condition of building elements such as roof, walls and windows, and then assign information regarding overall condition and occupancy. A risk status is automatically generated; the survey will not save until this section has been finished and completed surveys are tracked by colour coding.
Users can also add special notes and alerts, take photographs that are automatically encoded to the relevant structure, and work with online or offline mapping. All a user needs to do to synchronise data is to tap a tab. Data collected by volunteers is pushed to a holding database during the synchronisation process prior to being transferred to the HER by the authority’s IT team. Any duplicate surveys or missing details are highlighted.
Auditing of the pilot revealed that the results of the survey were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of the authority.
- The set-up time per volunteer is minimal compared to a paper system; it takes approximately 15 minutes to download a parish worth of maps, photos, list descriptions and historic condition surveys.
- There are no printing costs, it is not necessary to produce location maps for individual buildings and no original data is taken into the field.
- As results can be uploaded directly to a database, the need for a second level of data entry in the office is removed.
- As new BAR records were added to HER, existing data was cleaned and updated.
- Eight parishes within the National Park were updated and an efficient methodology for future surveys was established. The technology procured will support this work.
- The software is available indefinitely and hardware costs are distributed across the lifespan of the tablets.
- It is envisaged that, due to the ease and efficiency with which surveys can be carried out, a pattern of surveying buildings every five-years will be adopted.
- The saving in officer time that the methodology will produce will be spent on further public service.
- A volunteer action base was further empowered and the NYMNPA is confident that it will be able to recruit the required number of volunteers in the future.