Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by English Heritage (CAB 30)

  I refer to the recent call for evidence for the inquiry into the role and effectiveness of CABE. English Heritage has a great deal of contact with CABE and this short submission summarises its views on the organisation.


  1.  English Heritage is a non-departmental public body established under the National Heritage Act 1983 to help protect the historic environment of England and promote awareness, understanding and enjoyment of it.

  2.  Since our inception, English Heritage has been consulted on tens of thousands of planning, listed building, conservation area and scheduled monument consent applications and many of those to which it has responded raise design issues. English Heritage has also published guidance on design-related matters, offered grants for the conservation of historic buildings and areas and encouraged a greater appreciation of the built environment.

  3.  English Heritage has close links with CABE, as it did with its predecessor organisation, the Royal Fine Arts Commission. The remits of CABE and English Heritage are different, but there is a significant area of common interest, just as there are overlaps between English Heritage and other non-departmental government bodies such as the Countryside Agency and English Nature. The areas where the common ground is the greatest include the design of buildings and spaces in a historic context and the production of guidance, training and outreach on such issues.


  4.  English Heritage and CABE continue to work on many joint initiatives. There is informal contact on many issues, for example sharing drafts of statements with the other party, as well as joint publications and initiatives.

  5.  A notable joint achievement has been the successful development of the English Heritage Urban Panel into a jointly sponsored initiative with CABE, which has added greater breadth and depth to the advice it offers. The Panel offers advice to local planning authorities and developers on a range of large-scale and controversial proposals in historic towns and cities undergoing rapid change. Its advice draws on the experience and expertise of a selection of the very best specialists in urban design, architecture and the historic environment.

  6.  Joint publications include Building in Context (2001), Guidance for Tall Buildings (2003), Shifting Sands: Design and the Changing Image of English Seaside Towns (2003), Building Sustainable Communities: Action for Housing Market Renewal (2003), and Moving towards excellence in urban design and conservation (2002). More are being prepared. These offer decision-makers practical advice on how to tackle design issues, and both organisations benefit from the debate that occurs as the publications are being prepared.

  7.  English Heritage is also working closely with CABE on encouraging local authorities to appoint Historic Environment and Design Champions at elected Member level. The two organisations have co-operated closely in defining the roles of Historic Environment Champions and their Design counterparts. Both English Heritage and CABE have published guidance on this, and we are currently jointly funding training that we hope will lead to the development of regional networking groups to share good practice and further develop these roles.

  8.  The links between the two agencies have been further strengthened by the work of Les Sparks, who is a Commissioner of both organisations and helps ensure that areas of common interest are acted on co-operatively.


  9.  England contains hundreds of thousands of historic buildings, archaeological sites, conservation areas, historic parks and gardens. It is inevitable that many planning decisions will have an impact on them. The occasions when CABE and English Heritage have disagreed on the importance of the impact of a specific proposal have been few, and constitute only a tiny proportion of the total number of applications on which we have both commented. Any differences tend to be in emphasis, or the degree of significance afforded to a particular element in the historic environment, rather than a more fundamental difference of approach. It is for the local planning authority, or the First Secretary of State if the application is called in, to judge which opinion carries the most weight in any individual case.

  10.  Those cases where English Heritage and CABE have expressed differing views include a number of high-rise buildings in London such as the Heron, London Bridge and Swiss Re towers. This arose because of the different remits of the two organisations; English Heritage placing greater emphasis on the historic context and the settings of historic buildings or sites while CABE is principally concerned with the design solution proposed and its contribution to the architectural character of an area. We both strive to clarify the reason for differing views and to acknowledge the different perspectives of the other.


  11.  English Heritage participates in the Design Task Group which was established by CABE for Pathfinder Partnerships to share best practice in housing market renewal. The Task Group takes forward the agenda for action set out in Building Sustainable Communities: Actions for Housing Market Renewal through sharing best practice on such matters as design quality, sustainability and the reuse of existing buildings.


  12.  In its report on the Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration (2004), the Select Committee commented that "there are concerns that the functions of CABE and EH overlap and that they are not working closely enough together and providing consistent advice on planning applications . . . . In some instances CABE and EH are giving conflicting advice. EH tends to favour conservation while CABE prefers a modernist approach." The Committee recommended that "the relationship between CABE and EH needs to be reinforced in order to rationalise their operations, to minimise duplication and to ensure their advice is consistent."

  13.  English Heritage believes that the advice it is giving is consistent with its remit as the Government's advisor on matters that affect the historic environment. CABE offers advice in its remit as advisor on design and although its remit does not specifically include the historic environment, clearly most large-scale new developments will have an effect on it. English Heritage believes that local authorities do not have any difficulty in understanding the different roles of the two organisations and are perfectly able to balance their different perspectives in coming to a considered judgement, just as they have to balance the comments from other non-departmental public bodies that deal with environmental matters.

  14.  CABE has proved to be extremely successful in promoting high standards in the design of buildings and the spaces between them. Although their primary focus is rightly on new buildings, English Heritage believes that CABE has had a positive impact on the historic environment by highlighting good practice in urban design and in raising expectations and encouraging high quality responses to the built environment.

  15.  CABE acknowledges the importance of responding to context. English Heritage helps developers and communities understand what this means in practice. English Heritage believes that the two organisations work well together and that both provide important, but distinct, advice and encouragement in delivering better places for people. It believes that CABE should continue to develop its range of publications and initiatives and that both organisations should identify further joint projects.

  I trust this response is of assistance to you. Please contact me if you would like further information on any points raised in this evidence.

Steven Bee

Director of Planning and Development

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 27 October 2004