Heritage Western Cape Guidelines (23/06/14)

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What is a Built Environment Heritage Survey?

A built environment heritage survey is a survey of the built-form, spatial disposition and cultivated vegetation (including trees, avenues, gardens and even agricultural lands) that comprise the ‘built environment’ and ‘cultural landscape’ of a demarcated geographical area and which are recognized to be heritage resources.

Why are Built Environment Heritage Surveys conducted?

These surveys are conducted so as to identify all heritage resources and to quantify and describe their significance and that of their environs in advance of any potential development so that the management and administration of any proposed development is clear, lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.

Who conducts Built Environment Heritage Surveys?

These surveys may be conducted by any person or organization but, ideally and most commonly, by local authorities. Indeed, local authorities are required under Section 30(5) of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) to conduct these studies in order to compile inventories of heritage resources within their jurisdiction whenever they draw-up or revise their planning or zoning schemes.

What are the products and outcomes of Built Environment Heritage Surveys?

There are certain primary products of a Heritage Survey. An inventory or list of all of the buildings, sites and areas which are recommended to be designated as heritage resources, usually with each property captured on a single template-page (many inventories list every single property and building in the area surveyed). Three maps of the area surveyed:

  • The first of these three maps shows the approximate age of all of the buildings in the area identified by colour (the periods indicated are inevitably determined by the historical records/maps available);
  • the second shows all of the buildings, sites and areas which are recommended to be graded and designated as heritage resources identified by colour; and
  • the third map should show areas proposed to be heritage areas.

The uses to which these inventories and maps are put are fivefold:

  • First, even before the inventories are approved by the provincial heritage resources authority, Heritage Western Cape, all heritage resource-related management can be made more explicit, predictable and rational. This applies, in particular but not only, to the administration of applications made under the general protections, Sections 34 to 39.
  • Second, once the gradings of the grade II and grade III heritage resources have been approved by Heritage Western Cape, the properties can be listed in the provincial and local heritage registers satisfying Section 30(1) of the NHRA.
  • Third, once the gradings of the grade II and grade III heritage resources have been approved by Heritage Western Cape, the properties can be protected by the local authority via its zoning scheme.
  • Fourth, once Heritage Western Cape is satisfied that the heritage resources within an area are adequately provided for (through formal protections where they are necessary), Heritage Western Cape may, as enabled by Section 34(3) of the NHRA, exempt the owners of buildings more than sixty years old that have not been identified as Grade II or III from applications to alter or demolish.
  • Fifth, the map showing the proposed heritage areas can then form the basis of discussion between the local authority and Heritage Western Cape regarding the formal designation of these areas and, so, satisfy Section 31 of the NHRA.


1. Demarcation of survey


The area of any survey should eventually be the whole area that falls under the jurisdiction of the relevant local authority. It is, however, not necessary to cover the whole area in aa first phase. The survey team will be expected to demarcate the area of the specific phase in terms of streets, roads and/or other structures used as beacons as well as directional orientation.  (For example: The area of the survey covers the northern/central/western part of Town X, and is confined by Bloekom Street in the north, Blom Street in the west, Protea Street in the east and the Krom River in the south.) (See Maps for further guidelines on location and demarcation.)


It should be indicated whether all structures in the demarcated area will be included in the survey, or only structures of a certain age, for instance all structures older than 60 years, 30 years, or all structures, irrespective of age.


An indication should be given of the different types of structures that are found in this area, for example buildings, bridges, railway lines, open areas, etcetera.


An indication should be given of the different heritage themes predominant in the area, for example, history of slavery, history of racial oppression, etc.

Conservation or Heritage Areas

An indication should be given of areas which, by virtue of their character or of the number and richness of the identified buildings, spaces and vegetation, could be proposed as conservation or heritage areas.

2. Maps/plans

A set of clear maps/plans and aerial photographs of the whole area under the jurisdiction of the local authority and, in particular, of the area covered in the survey must be provided. It is also essential for mapped overlays indicating the development over time, to be provided. For the specific scope of the survey, the relevant area should be indicated on a key map locating and numbering blocks and individual properties and buildings in a systematic way with each structure being identified with its own unique reference number (as well as erf number). See illustrated example from The Buildings of Cape Town catalogues). There are also the three summary maps mentioned above (indicating dates, significances and heritage areas).



3. Historical background

The purpose of the historical background is to contextualize the development of the built environment and cultural landscape. It is not necessary for the purposes of this sort of survey to supply an in depth history of the town/village/settlement/area. A short overview of the history, social history and cultural history will suffice. The background should refer to the earliest inhabitants of the area (as far back as can be traced), the first granting of grazing licences, the first granting of land, the establishment of the town, the reasons for the plan or layout of the town, means of livelihood of the inhabitants, languages spoken, religion of inhabitants, education and schools, agriculture and the influence of forced removals and the Group Areas Act. Specific unique characteristics of the town/settlement and/or its inhabitants should naturally feature in this overview, in particular, periods of economic boom when large numbers of new buildings were constructed and/or old ones were altered or had additions.

4. Sites with multiple resources

Where there is more than one structure on a specific site, these structures should have their own unique reference number and should be entered on different forms or template-pages, because many of the details like date built, history, alterations, style and evaluation may differ.

5. Architecture

A survey should include a brief overview of local architectural history, referring to:

  • earliest forms of habitation;
  • vernacular architecture with reference to specific vernacular styles and building materials of the area;
  • various architectural styles represented in the demarcated area;
  • architectural context (this refers to the buildings and structures in the whole of the local area, farming district and wider region, and not to the historical or geographical context).
6. Archaeological and Palaeontological Sites

These Guidelines do not apply to archaeological and paleontological sites which remain a provincial competence in terms of s.35 of the NHRA. Survey inventories should nevertheless include reference to any within the survey area that have been declared as provincial or national heritage sites. Archaeological and palaeontological resources are identified during impact assessments required prior to development in terms of s.38 of the NHRA. A database of properties surveyed and sites that have been identified during archaeological and palaeontological impact assessments is kept by Heritage Western Cape and SAHRA, and may be referred to for planning purposes.

7. Methodology

An explanation of how the research was done, methods used, the dates of site visits, sources used (a list of sources should be supplied), the range of expert and public in-put into the process and, in particular, a detailed account of the processes followed by the research team in assessing and proposing the gradings of the buildings, sites, spaces and vegetation proposed as heritage resources. Ideally, the grading assessment team should include at least four members with appropriate background knowledge and experience; and the draft gradings proposed by the team should be developed by the group at on-site inspections; and such proposed gradings should be tested both with knowledgeable local interested individuals and bodies/communities and with experts who have experience of similar surveys of comparable environments.

At the outset, the commissioning authority is advised to consult with HWC regarding the scope and terms of reference for the project. The proposed methodology of any survey should be discussed with and agreed between the survey team and Heritage Western Cape in advance of the survey being commenced.

8. Criteria for assessment of significance and the application of these criteria

The criteria applied for assessing the heritage value of the property should be discussed. It is not necessary to supply an in depth discussion of the theories on heritage values and assessment criteria used internationally, if they are not really applied to each property in the inventory. Most important is an explanation of the way in which the criteria for significance were adopted and adapted in practice and applied to the buildings in terms of typology, chronology, heritage themes, etc. The previous (prior to the 1999 NHR Act) and any current heritage grading/status must be given, for example, “previous national monument”, “current zoning scheme conservation area”, etc.

[This section is the most important part of any guide and of any survey.]

Criteria for the grading of Grade I buildings and sites (i.e. of national significance) must be discussed with SAHRA. See also HWC Short Guide to and Policy Statement on Grading.

9. Research team

It is important that the researchers, contributors to and compilers of the survey are identified in the report. The names of the research team with an indication of their qualifications, experience (in particular, in heritage resource management), their expertise and the roles they played in the survey and assessment of significances.

10. Inventory

This information is provided on a standard template (which in future will become a centrally managed electronic Heritage Information Management System (HIMS)). The actual list of structures in the demarcated area should include the following fields:


  • block and building reference number
  • erf number
  • GPS coordinates
  • street address
  • type of building (eg religious, military, house, flats)
  • date built
  • style (here should be referred to a specific style and not a period, eg Georgian style, although it may fall within the Victorian period)
  • architectural period
  • alterations (restorations, renovations, extensions, additions and the dates of such alterations)
  • present NHRA protection
  • suggested grading – significance in terms of NHRA
    •  historical
    • rarity
    • aesthetic
    • technological
    • cultural
    • social history
    • slave history

These fields are assessed by a system of blocks ticked, indicating

  • very significant
  • significant
  • slight significance
  • no significance
  • not assessed
  • photographs (photographs should be as recent as possible and should, ideally, not date more than six months either side of the date of the survey; photographs should be clear and the structure(s) visible, for instance not hidden by trees or leaves (this usually means in the Western Cape that photographs should be taken in winter); if possible, provide additional photographs from different angles.


  • name of the building
  • description
  • history
  • social history