Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Report

3  Tools for supporting the historic environment

Existing protection

126. Besides its sponsorship of English Heritage, the Government has two main areas of intervention to support the historic environment: a planning framework which recognises and accords special protection to archaeological sites, historic buildings or structures of special value; and fiscal policy, which can provide assistance or incentives to maintain and repair historic assets. The planning framework is split between two Departments: the listing regime, scheduling of monuments, grants to heritage bodies and responsibilities for the Ecclesiastical Exemption for churches are the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, while general planning controls including appeals against consents, Article 4 Directions which control classes of permitted development, conservation-related enforcement notices, demolition of redundant listed churches and compensation issues are the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Planning framework

127. The planning framework has undergone major change in recent years. A new two-tier system has been introduced to manage development in towns and in the countryside: Regional Spatial Strategies are prepared by regional planning bodies (and in London, the Mayor) describing the broad requirements for how each region should look in 15 to 20 years' time or longer; and these are complemented by Local Development Frameworks consisting of a folder of development documents indicating principles for the local area. The intention behind the new system is to make it more responsive to change and to allow fuller engagement with local communities and development stakeholders by means of a Statement of Community Involvement.

Planning guidance

128. The two Planning Policy Guidance notes issued by central Government to assist local planning authorities in taking into account historic assets in decision-making are PPG 15 (Planning and the Historic Environment) and PPG 16 (Archaeology and Planning). PPG 15 emerged from an update of a 1987 Department of Environment circular in September 1994; PPG16 (Archaeology and planning) dates from November 1990. The Government has signified its intention to merge the two and replace them with a combined Planning Policy Statement.

129. PPG 15 is divided into two parts but there is no sharp distinction between the areas of responsibility of the two Government departments involved. Part 1 deals with those aspects of conservation policy which interact most directly with the planning system and which are the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government; it explains the role of the planning system, development plans (now superseded) and development control, and policies on alterations and extensions to listed buildings, demolition and conservation areas. Part 2 deals with aspects of policy less directly linked to the planning system and are the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. These include guidance on how buildings are identified for listing and the principles of selection, upkeep and enforcement, and works to churches under the Ecclesiastical Exemption. A technical annex gives detailed advice on the appropriate alteration of component parts of listed buildings: walls, windows, doors et cetera.

130. There was no sign in evidence of serious discontent with the principles underlying PPG 15.[250] Unlike the Circular which it replaced in 1994, it is aimed not just at planning authorities but at owners, agents and developers. It has made clear the integrated nature of the relationship between planning and heritage and is explicit about the special regard to be paid to preserving listed buildings, with demolition only as a last resort. We were told however that certain elements of the Guidance, such as advice relating to World Heritage Sites and to historic parks and gardens did not reflect current policy thinking and good practice in the historic environment sector.[251] We also heard that the level of detail in the appended advice on alteration of buildings was poor when compared with that available in Scotland,[252] and the Planning Officers Society pointed out that there were also deficiencies relating to sustainability, disabled access and the revised Building Regulations.[253]

131. PPG 16 sets out policy on archaeological remains on land and how they should be preserved and recorded. The Archaeology Forum told us that the document "built upon accepted practice in the most forward-looking authorities and enlightened developers, developing the precautionary and "polluter pays" policy. It listed a series of beneficial effects: the "appalling loss of sites of the past 30 years" had lessened "dramatically"; it had been "spectacularly successful in expanding the excavation of archaeological sites that would otherwise be destroyed without record"; and it had increased standards overall.[254]

132. PPG 16 gave new encouragement to local planning authorities to require developers to arrange for an archaeological field evaluation to be undertaken on a site where they were intending to submit a planning application; and it stated that local planning authorities could expect developers to provide the results of such assessments as part of any subsequent application.[255] The consequences have been far-reaching: an industry of professional archaeological contractors and consultants has grown, competing for tenders to undertake field assessments. Competition is often fierce and price-led. The consequent increase in expenditure by developers on archaeology has been largely responsible for the substantial overall increase in funds for archaeology in England from nearly £120 million in 2000 to some £210 million or more in 2003-04.[256] While this may seem beneficial, we heard that aggressive competition had exaggerated job insecurity and held down rates of pay and conditions "at unacceptable levels".[257] We also heard that the standards demanded for such work left little space for the involvement of amateurs in archaeology and consequently reduced opportunities for voluntary effort, which had traditionally played a large part on archaeological excavation.[258]

133. Witnesses identified scope for improvement to PPG 16, particularly in terms of enhancing benefit to the public. The Archaeology Forum called for clearer guidance on storage, conservation and display of artefacts recovered during fieldwork, a greater involvement of the public in excavations, and the analysis and publication of excavation records in forms which are accessible for the archaeological community and the wider public.[259] One witness suggested that there was a serious need to specify the requirement on developers to pay for full scientific analysis, publication and archiving.[260] Work is currently under way by the lead professional archaeological institutions to define appropriate professional standards, and this should be taken into account in the issuing of planning policy guidance. We revisit this issue and draw conclusions on the importance of archaeology for public engagement at paragraphs 210 to 212.

134. Baroness Andrews confirmed to us that the publication of a new merged Planning Policy Statement would have "to wait on the Heritage Protection Review itself" but that the values that would underpin the forthcoming White Paper would be reflected in the new statement and its appendices.[261] The recent joint ODPM/DCMS consultation paper on criteria for listing buildings indicates however that the merger would have to wait even longer - until the new heritage protection system was in place and implemented.[262] We recommend strongly that the merger and replacement of existing Planning Policy Guidance concerning the historic environment and archaeology should be undertaken without delay after publication of the Heritage White Paper. It should not be delayed until implementation of the proposed new heritage protection regime in 2010: some of the advice is very outdated and needs revision, but the principles are largely sound and significant benefits could be gained from comparatively little effort.

The heritage protection system

135. Although some elements of the system for protection and management of the historic environment go back to the 19th century,[263] it was not until 1967 that area-based protection was introduced, building on rudimentary protection dating from 1947. Further protection for archaeology was added in 1979;[264] but listing and conservation areas remained a subsidiary part of land-use planning legislation until they were split from it in 1990. The general statutory development of the present framework has therefore been evolutionary and piecemeal and, although it has worked reasonably effectively, witnesses were divided as to whether it could be adjusted effectively to respond to present concerns or whether it needed complete overhaul. Those in the former camp cite the specific components that require only minor adjustment to be more effective, in some cases using Regulations and Orders under the planning system rather than new primary legislation. Others, notably English Heritage, argue that reform is "essential" and that the current system is "disjointed, complex and confusing".[265] Such complexity is cited as the main reason for the proposed Heritage Protection Regime programme. We describe the various elements of the existing regime, identifying the changes which would be made by the Heritage Protection Reform programme, before giving a view on the merits of the programme as a whole. We then look at controls which appear not to be included in the reform programme.

Recording of sites

136. At present, all sites designated as noteworthy and deserving of a measure of statutory protection are recorded on separate lists, depending on whether they are buildings, archaeological sites or monuments, historic parks and gardens, or battlefields. Some sites fall into more than category and are therefore recorded twice. The heritage protection reforms propose an integrated Register of Historic Sites and Buildings for England, to be compiled by English Heritage. The Register would incorporate all designated sites, including all those listed above as well as World Heritage Sites. It would consist of two sections: a main section of sites designated according to nationally-agreed criteria, to be maintained by English Heritage; and a local section of sites designated locally against criteria to be drawn up by English Heritage. English Heritage implied that the local section of the Register would be formed from the records compiled by local authorities as Historic Environment Records (see paragraph 139 below).[266] Conservation areas would be recorded in the local part of the Register.[267]

137. The new Register would provide more comprehensive information about why each particular asset had been designated, thereby enabling owners of historic sites to make better informed decisions about future protection and management. Statutory responsibility for designating historic assets would be transferred from DCMS to English Heritage (although the administrative aspects of the listing process have already been transferred - in April 2005).

138. While these proposed reforms have significance for DCMS and English Heritage and would appear to be sensible, there are some unanswered questions. The proposal for comprehensive information about why an asset has been designated would apply to new designations; but enhancing to the same standard the levels of information about the architectural and historic interest of the existing 500,000 Listed buildings and 18,000 scheduled ancient monuments (together with the other types of historic assets) would be a major task. There is a danger that the old and new systems (or at least the very disparate levels of information for each) would co-exist in perpetuity, with little being achieved to improve levels of understanding which underlie the reform. The proposed combined Register is sound in principle, but the supposed benefits cannot be realised unless resources are made available for a substantial one-off task in updating existing records.

139. At local level, the main sources of information are Historic Environment Records (HER) (formerly known as Sites and Monuments Records). The existing network has been built up since the 1970s and is generally held and maintained by county councils and unitary level authorities. DCMS indicated in The Way Forward in 2004 that it intended to require local authorities to establish and maintain or to have access to Historic Environment Records. Strangely, the English Heritage submission to our inquiry stated clearly that such a responsibility would indeed be placed on local authorities,[268] but the DCMS submission made no mention of it in its description of the heritage protection reforms.

140. Witnesses from the archaeological community saw the statutory requirement to maintain or have access to Historic Environment Records as essential to improve development decisions and public knowledge.[269] Mr Ayers told us that they were "remarkably powerful tools" in informing decision-making and that without them he could not see the Heritage Protection Reform process working.[270] The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers made clear that "good quality and committed staff" and a sound information base would be needed to inform the work.[271] We agree with witnesses that a statutory requirement on local authorities to maintain or have access to Historic Environment Records is an important step in disseminating information and increasing public engagement. DCMS should confirm that it intends to bring the proposal forward.

141. The effort involved in establishing and maintaining a Historic Environment Record is chiefly one of making paper-based records available in electronic format. For archaeology services the enhancement of public access to information about assets, for instance through digitisation, is core work and is already well advanced. Conservation services are much more reliant on paper records and by far the greater part of the burden of this task would be borne by conservation officers. No clear estimate has emerged from research by WS Atkins into the financial and resource impact of the heritage reform proposals, as much would depend on which model of service delivery would be adopted according to local circumstances, and the levels of skills and seniority of heritage professionals required to operate it.[272] It seems clear that a significant one-off task faces local authority staff to digitise all existing records. DCMS should make it clear what priority local authorities should give to the digitisation of paper-based records to form Historic Environment Records; and it must recognise the scale of the task.

The Listing system

142. The purpose of the listing system is "to guide local planning authorities in the performance of their planning functions and ensure that careful consideration is given to individual buildings which are of special interest before planning decisions are taken, principally through listed building consent".[273] Listed buildings are accorded an additional degree of protection from inappropriate alteration or extension, or demolition. To qualify, a building must be of "special architectural or historic interest"; guidance on what amounts to special interest is given in PPG 15. English Heritage and DCMS have recently consulted on further elaboration and refinement of the criteria by which buildings will be listed. Listed buildings are graded from Grade I through Grade II* to Grade II, in descending order of significance. Local authorities are obliged to consult English Heritage and the national amenity societies on proposals to alter, extend or demolish Grade I or II* buildings (and consult English Heritage on such works to Grade II buildings in local authority ownership). In April 2005, the task of administering the listing system was transferred from DCMS to English Heritage, although for the time being decisions on listing remain with the Secretary of State. Under the Heritage Protection Reform proposals, English Heritage would acquire responsibility for decisions on listing; to achieve this, primary legislation would be required.

143. One of the proposed reforms is to eliminate the Grade II* listing category by combining it with Grade I. The vast majority of listed buildings (about 92%) would remain listed as Grade II. There were fears that this would somehow indicate a downgrading of status, and Save Britain's Heritage argued that the existing three grades gave a very clear indication of the strengths of each building and that to elevate all Grade II* buildings to the level of Grade 1 would dilute the specialness of the most highly graded buildings. Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, was adamant that there was no suggestion that large numbers of Grade II* buildings that would be relegated to Grade II, and this bears out the Government's thinking set out in The Way Forward.[274]

144. It became clear in evidence from English Heritage that the reforms to the listing process would entail a re-listing of the listed building stock, with the description of each listed building rewritten as and when a related application for consent on a Grade I, II* or local authority-owned Grade II building was received. Save Britain's Heritage described the demands which would result as "enormous",[275] and Dr Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, agreed that there was "a potentially huge amount of work" involved.[276] It is not clear whether the Government has yet assessed the practicality of achieving the rewriting of a list description within the target time for processing the related application for consent.[277] The Government should consider carefully whether target times for processing applications for listed building consent should be revised to reflect the extra task of rewriting the relevant list description.

145. We note in passing that DCMS plans to change the designation process for all types of asset, introducing new steps of notifying and consulting owners on proposals to list or schedule assets in their ownership. Interim protection measures will be in place to protect assets while they are being considered for designation, something which was strongly endorsed by the Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies.[278]

Merger of Listed Building Consent and Scheduled Monument Consent

146. Presently, all applications for Listed Building Consent are made in the first instance to the local planning authority, but applications for Scheduled Monument Consent are made to the Secretary of State, in practice with advice and administrative support from English Heritage. The heritage protection reforms envisage a single application process through the local planning authority, covering applications for permissions to undertake works affecting either listed buildings or scheduled monuments. English Heritage told us that the merger would "achieve consistency of process and greater transparency and accountability". Once again, the impact of the change would be felt by local authority staff, in particular conservation officers, who would need training to pick up the expertise to handle applications for scheduled monument consent, although there would be involvement of English Heritage "as appropriate".[279] Baroness Andrews indicated in oral evidence to the Committee that work commissioned from consultants W S Atkins had examined how joint working arrangements might provide the range of specialist expertise required so that for example, a dedicated archaeological adviser would not be required for each local authority.[280]

Heritage Partnership Agreements

147. Some large sites contain several elements subject to separate development controls. For instance, a listed house with listed outbuildings might be set within a registered historic park that contained scheduled archaeological remains. At present separate or overlapping consents could be required for alterations, extensions or demolitions. DCMS proposes that such sites might be covered in future by Heritage Partnership Agreements, under which a medium to long-term framework for management of an asset, site or estate would be agreed between the owner, site manager, the local authority and (if appropriate) English Heritage. The management framework would set out a range of works that could be undertaken without the need for repetitive consent applications.[281] English Heritage has piloted a few such Partnership Agreements, and their Chief Executive, Dr Simon Thurley, described for us an example - that of the Holkham Estate in Norfolk - where the management agreement would take several months of negotiation between the owner of the estate, the local planning authority and English Heritage. Dr Thurley anticipated that once it was in place, all three parties would have to do "far less work".[282] Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, added his support, emphasising that conservation was best served by going for a managed solution rather than an adversarial one.[283]

148. Others were also in favour: Dr Nigel Crowe, Conservation Manager at British Waterways, was enthusiastic and believed that the British Waterways estate - which is by nature linear and has generic features - lent itself "very much" to such agreements.[284] British Waterways was currently piloting an agreement to deal with the Foxton Incline Plain and Canal site and was shortly to open consultation with stakeholders, customers, the Inland Waterways Association, the local authority and others. Dr Crowe very much hoped that the approach taken, which he saw as open and accountable, would be welcomed. The Church Heritage Forum also saw "positive advantages in the concept" and intends to continue participation in pilots.[285]

149. It will be interesting to see whether there is as much scope for establishing Heritage Partnership Agreements as may have been envisaged initially. English Heritage was unable to place an estimate on the percentage of designated assets that might be covered by Agreements.[286] It is accepted that in each case there will need to be a significant initial investment in terms of time, and the financial burden has yet to be quantified;[287] but English Heritage hopes that there will in the long term be a saving of effort and money.[288] Research undertaken into pilot Agreements appears to bear out some of English Heritage's hopes, although the research warns that quantifying savings - in time or costs - in advance of implementation is very difficult; and it confirms that Agreements will have limited purposes.[289] Negotiated settlements are the ideal and any labour saved as a result will be welcome, but it cannot be assumed that it will always be easy to secure Agreements, particularly where there is a history of antipathy or suspicion. Indeed, without such mutual trust, Agreements would be unlikely to be successfully concluded.

Class Consents

150. Just as certain categories of relatively minor development can be granted planning permission automatically, there are a number of operations affecting scheduled monuments which are normally of little consequence and for which scheduled monuments consent can be granted by the Secretary of State subject to consultation with English Heritage. Ten such Classes of Consent were defined under the Ancient Monuments (Class Consents) Order 1994 but the most contentious is Class 1, comprising agricultural, horticultural and forestry works. The approval is based on such works being carried out regularly so that no new damage is caused and only on areas where works of the same kind have been done at some point in the previous six years. The archaeological community consistently identified ploughing as the most contentious operation permitted under Class 1 Consents.[290] The All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) went further in proposing that the system of class consents should be abolished altogether.[291] The Archaeology Forum agreed but urged early withdrawal of Class 1 Consents for agricultural activities.[292] The Forum and others drew attention to well publicised case of damage at the Romano-British town of Verulamium at St Albans.[293]

151. The NFU questioned whether conditions for scheduled monuments (including archaeological sites) had actually worsened since the order came into effect in 1994, and it maintained that a balance needed to be found between what was judged to be the public good and the rights of those with an interest in the land. It cited incentives for farmers to maintain their land in a good environmental condition (which involved respect for historic features) and called for their beneficial effects to be measured before any decision was taken to embark on a regulatory path.[294] The Country Land and Business Association also cautioned against total withdrawal of the order and urged that common sense should be used in deciding upon change.[295]

152. DCMS has announced that it is reviewing the Class Consents Order and it acknowledges the need to protect nationally important archaeological sites from being damaged by ploughing.[296] There are perfectly valid views on both sides of the argument but we have not been able to explore them fully. A measure which permits the blanket authorisation of damage to archaeological sites of national importance cannot be allowed to continue in its present form, but we believe that the provision of financial incentives to encourage good environmental stewardship may be a more promising approach than straightforward repeal of the Class Consents Order.

Conclusion on the Heritage Protection Reform programme

153. Many of the proposed changes under the Heritage Protection Reform programme might seem technical, disparate and of limited importance to the outside observer, but their impact on owners, English Heritage and especially local authorities is likely to be very significant. We note that there is support from across the sector for the principles of the reform, particularly those that lead to devolution of decision-making to more local levels.[297] The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, for example, is "fully committed" to the proposed legislation[298] and the reforms' objectives are "warmly supported" by the Church Heritage Forum.[299]

154. We accept that there is a clear rationale for reforming the present system of designation protection: it is indeed disjointed, complex and confusing. We also welcome the Government's assurance that the reforms would not entail any dilution of the current levels of statutory protection.

155. We are not certain however that DCMS has grasped fully the implications for local authority staff, some of whom are already struggling to find space for conservation work in a timetable driven increasingly by the demands of giving advice on development applications. As English Heritage rightly notes, the pace of implementation will depend on the skills and capacity of local authorities to take on new responsibilities. A set of changes as substantial as those proposed under the Heritage Protection Reform programme will take time to implement fully and will need financial and political support. Mr Lammy spoke of a "compact" with local government that where central government placed extra burdens on local authorities, it would provide the necessary extra resources.[300] If the Government wants the heritage protection reforms to succeed, it must ensure that local authorities invest in historic environment services and that they are funded to do so. We note the Minister's assurance that resources would be provided to local authorities to meet the costs of any further burdens: we expect to see this commitment delivered by DCLG.

Controls which do not appear in the HPR programme

Conservation areas

156. Conservation Areas were established in the Civic Amenities Act 1967 as areas of "special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance". Initially the sole protection afforded was simply a requirement for extra publicity to be given to planning applications and a duty for local authorities to pay special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of such areas. There was no control over demolition, although this was soon recognised as a major shortcoming and remedial measures were introduced in 1974. Although we did not concentrate upon controls in conservation areas during the inquiry, we gained the impression that the original aspirations for conservation areas have never been matched by an adequate regime of control to enable local authorities to manage them.[301] Mr Venning, Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, told us that it was "surprising what you can get away with in a conservation area",[302] and we are advised that there are for instance more controls over works to trees in conservation areas than to the extension or alteration of facades of buildings.[303] We identify two particular failings: demolition control (compromised by the 1997 Shimizu decision, the effects of which are not confined to conservation areas), and the disincentives for local authorities to use powers to suspend permitted development rights.

157. The notorious Shimizu decision effectively permitted owners of most unlisted buildings in conservation areas to demolish a part of their building without the consent of their local authority; only demolition of the whole building required consent.[304] The decision also made explicit that any proposals involving only relatively minor demolitions need not be notified to the national amenity societies. The decision is widely seen as perverse, and we were told that the present Government had indicated soon after the decision that it would try to resolve the situation.[305] DCMS announced in its 2003 consultation paper on the historic environment that existing controls over demolition were to be considered as part of the research under way for the review of the General Permitted Development Order;[306] but there is little sign of any result. According to witnesses, several Ministers had indicated that they wanted to bring forward legislation to change the position, but time had not been found.[307]Baroness Andrews gave us an assurance that the forthcoming White Paper would address the problems caused in the light of the Shimizu ruling, and she said that her Department would "certainly be taking account of Shimizu, hopefully restoring the levels of control that were in place before"; but little appears to have been done so far to undertake any systematic collection of evidence of damage caused by the ruling.[308] The Government's approach in addressing the Shimizu decision has been dilatory and unacceptable. Nothing is to be gained from further delay, and steps to place the previous understanding on a secure legal footing should be given a high priority.

158. It is possible for local authorities to introduce greater protection for buildings in conservation areas by suspending householders' automatic right to undertake certain work without planning permission, by issuing what are known as Article 4 Directions. These require prior public consultation but are cumbersome to administer and enforce, vary in what they control from area to area, and may subject the local authority to claims for compensation by owners denied the opportunity to make such alterations.[309] As with Shimizu, the Government has indicated that it would consider the reasons why local authorities are reluctant to use their powers to withdraw permitted development rights in conservation areas;[310] but once again progress seems painfully slow, despite support for change from practitioners.[311] DCLG should aim to complete its consultation on the General Permitted Development Order and bring forward a statement of intent by the end of 2006.

The case for a statutory duty of care

159. There is no general duty, either under statute or at common law, on the owner or occupier of a building to do anything to stop it falling into a state of advanced decay. It was suggested to us that a statutory duty of care, such as that placed upon housing associations, would be an effective way of forcing owners - private or public - to maintain their properties in good condition.[312] The Planning Officers' Society envisaged such a duty for local authorities.[313] Others believed that such an approach would be wrong, at least for private owners. The Historic Houses Association and the Country Land and Business Association argued that what the government policy framework should encourage was the willing cooperation of owners, and the HHA told us that "the stick is there for the basic protection, the carrot for doing the positive conservation".[314] We believe that a statutory duty of care could be a significant disincentive to private owners to take on properties where unique features and required conservation standards make maintenance particularly expensive or problematical, and we reject the idea.

Buildings at Risk

160. The concept of defining Buildings at Risk was developed by English Heritage in the mid 1980s, and a policy was launched in 1987 jointly with a small number of pilot authorities. Listed buildings were assessed against a formula based on condition and occupancy and placed in one of six grades ranging from bad condition and vacant (Risk Grade 1 - seriously threatened) to good condition and fully occupied (Grade 6 - not at risk). In almost all cases this could be done by an external inspection and the exercise enabled buildings at risk to be prioritised for grant aid or statutory action either to urgently and temporarily keep the building standing or to effect more permanent repairs by the owner (or by the local authority in default). Local authorities have statutory rights of entry if necessary to survey buildings and powers to require works to be done under both historic building and planning legislation. Generally this work for conservation officers is a low priority, partly because of inadequate legal guidance and definitions of the actions possible; partly as a result of local political inertia; and partly because it is long-term, time-consuming workload. There is no statutory requirement to undertake buildings-at-risk work; it is done as good practice by conscientious local authorities, and we heard that a very large number of local authorities did not have such registers.[315] We have already noted (at paragraph 109) the case for including the maintenance of Buildings at Risk registers as an ingredient of statutory services to be provided by local authorities. A survey by English Heritage in 1990-91 of 43,000 listed buildings in different parts of England found that 7.3% were at risk and that another 14.6% were vulnerable.[316] We understand that these proportions are not believed to have changed significantly since, although no further systematic study has been undertaken".[317] English Heritage established its own register of Grade I and II* Buildings at Risk in 1998 and calculated that £400 million would need to be spent to remove their "at risk" status; this figure was confirmed to us in oral evidence.[318] We note that English Heritage has had some success in recent years in reducing their tally, which has gone down from 1,615 in 1999 to 1,430 in 2005.[319]

World Heritage Sites

161. World Heritage Sites are at the top of the hierarchy for the historic environment, being recognised as "of outstanding value" and included on the World Heritage List held by UNESCO.[320] There are currently 26 World Heritage Sites in the UK,[321] ranging considerably in extent from Durham castle and cathedral to the Saltaire model village based upon a textile mill near Bradford, the Victorian mercantile heart of Liverpool and the entire centre of the city of Bath.

162. World Heritage Sites are not recognised specifically in statute (unlike National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).[322] They are a material consideration to be taken into account by a planning authority when considering a relevant planning application, and the Chairman of English Heritage told us that they were "better regarded" than other sites in the planning process.[323] Mr Burton, Director of Policy at the National Trust, suggested that there was an opportunity for additional protection: he observed that "at the moment in planning terms World Heritage Site status does not offer anything particularly special" and that "the strength of the presumption against damaging development for World Heritage Sites is not as strong as it needs to be", particularly in relation to factors outside the planning process such as inappropriate agricultural practices or major road infrastructure schemes.[324] The Borough of Telford and the Wrekin, in which the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site is situated, called for statutory designation for Sites to ensure their protection.[325]

163. The most striking example of a World Heritage Site suffering from such factors is Stonehenge, where the situation remains degrading. Sir Neil Cossons was optimistic that there was considerable support for current proposals being put forward by the Department for Transport, and he hoped that the dignity of the monument could be restored in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games.[326] Thirteen years ago, the Committee of Public Accounts identified the standards of presentation and facilities at Stonehenge as "a national disgrace"[327] and it is shameful that delays to the road scheme have allowed so little progress to be made. Sir Neil Cossons told us that there was "an opportunity, uniquely … to sort Stonehenge out" and that that nettle had to be grasped now, or another decade would pass in which the people of the south-west would suffer inadequate transport links and another eight million visitors would "enjoy or endure" the site.[328] All interested parties should recognise that it is in the interests of the general public that the current opportunity to reach a solution at Stonehenge should not be lost.

164. In relation to statutory controls, not everyone believed that there was a need for increased protection. Mr Lammy was doubtful,[329] and Mr Burchnall said that within the Sites themselves it was "difficult to see what additional controls you would need to introduce".[330] Almost all Sites are covered by conservation area status (which offers a degree of special protection), and local planning authorities would have to consider the impact of proposals for nearby development or tall buildings, as has been the case for the Liverpool World Heritage Site.

165. There was more support for World Heritage Sites to be recognised specifically under the proposed new designation regime under the Heritage Protection Reform programme. Sir Neil Cossons saw a need to look at what provisions there were and to determine what was "possible and practical";[331] and Mr Lammy said that it was important that Sites should be brought into line with the new regime.[332] The benefit would appear to be simply to offer a very distinct signal of a Site's value.

166. Designation of a World Heritage Site does place a burden upon the relevant local authority. It may take on responsibility for preservation of the Site and provision for possibly substantial numbers of visitors; the Borough of Telford and the Wrekin told us that a considerable level of resources had been diverted to carry out those responsibilities.[333] Local authorities are also required by PPG 15 to formulate specific planning policies for protecting such sites and to include those policies in their development plans.[334] Liverpool City Council told us that there were "costs associated with doing that management plan" which went beyond the City Council's own resources and which caused the Council to look for external funding.[335] Preparing information to support the initial application for inscription as a Site is also time-consuming. The Local Authority World Heritage Forum called for direct funding from DCMS to bodies implementing World Heritage Site management plans, to help with the costs of major infrastructure or preservation work.[336]

167. Some local authorities employ a World Heritage Officer, to oversee custody of the Site, promote it and manage its tourism, education and employment potential. It is a judgment for each local authority as to whether the benefits of employing such staff outweigh the costs, and we do not believe that there should be a mandatory requirement for local authorities to do so. We recognise that World Heritage Site status can place extra cost processes on local authorities and we believe that regional development agencies should do more to recognise the strategic importance of World Heritage Sites to local communities and to help local authorities with these costs to maximise the benefits of World Heritage Site status.

Fiscal policy to support heritage protection

168. Two main routes are open to the Government to provide financial support for the protection of heritage assets: direct grant aid and tax relief. We have considered direct grant aid through English Heritage and through the Heritage Lottery Fund - at paragraphs 29 and 66 above. We concentrate here on different forms of relief.


169. VAT, as a tax chargeable on business transactions, goods and some services, applies in the heritage field to materials for repair, the labour cost of repair when undertaken by firms registered for VAT, and professional services required in preparation for repair work, such as surveyors' and architectural consultants' fees. Whereas the construction of new buildings has attracted a zero-rate of VAT since its introduction in 1973, the repair and maintenance of buildings has always been standard-rated. Until 1984, all alterations were zero-rated; the zero-rate was then generally withdrawn for work on alterations except for work carried out in the course of an approved alteration to a listed building.[337]

170. The harmonisation of tax policy at an EU level normally prevents the Government from applying zero-rating (or a reduced rating) of VAT to new fields (or extending existing zero-rating). Agreement was however reached among EU Finance Ministers during the UK EU Presidency in 2005 which afforded a window of opportunity to apply to exercise an option to introduce a reduced rate of VAT on the labour input of renovation and repair work to private dwellings.[338] The window closed on 31 March 2006 without the UK Government having made an application, despite encouragement from English Heritage and others.[339]

171. The issue of VAT-rating for repairs to listed buildings united the sector perhaps more than any other in evidence. We were told that the differential between rates applicable to new build construction costs and repair costs penalised maintenance and created perverse incentives.[340] It encouraged alterations to listed buildings (at zero-rate); and it encouraged owners to leave buildings to rot to such a state that demolition was justified.[341] The Campaign to Protect Rural England argued that the favouring of new-build encouraged greenfield development but stagnation of previously developed land, which contributed to a cycle of decline and a trend towards rundown areas which were less attractive to investors.[342] The Architectural Heritage Fund drew our attention to the gains for sustainable development arising from re-use and retention.[343]

172. We note that the former ODPM itself recognised the cost-effectiveness of repair and refurbishment, citing evidence from Heritage Counts 2003 demonstrating that older housing "costs less to maintain and occupy over the long-term life of the dwelling than more modern housing". ODPM found that when the energy costs of demolition, site remediation and new construction were taken into account, there was "an even stronger argument for promoting the re-use of the historic built stock".[344]

173. Heritage Link wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 2006 listing the various reasons why reduced or zero rating should be introduced for repairs to listed buildings, and urging him to take advantage of the window of opportunity secured by EU Finance Ministers. The Treasury made no such move.

174. The Government has cited two reasons for resisting calls to reduce or zero-rate VAT for repairs to listed buildings. The first, in response to the report by the former ODPM Select Committee on The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration, was that the Government "had seen no compelling evidence that the absence of a reduced VAT rate on repairs significantly hinders the maintenance of historic buildings, and no evidence that most of the benefit of a blanket relief for repair and maintenance work would not just go to middle and higher income households making improvements to houses already in a good state of repair".[345] The second reason given, this time in response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by the Committee Chairman asking whether the Government would take up the opportunity afforded by the European Commission, was that a reduced rate for the renovation and repair of private dwellings was "one of a number of reduced rates introduced into EU legislation on an experimental basis whose objective is to create employment opportunities by stimulating demand through lower prices" and that the Government had always chosen not to participate, as it believed that its employment objectives were "better targeted through measures such as the welfare to work strategy and the New Deal".[346]

175. In the past, the Minister of Culture (Mr Lammy) has described the case for change to the existing regime applicable to repair costs as "unproven".[347] When the question was raised with him in oral evidence, he said that the he was "in constant dialogue" with Treasury colleagues on the issue but that "gains specific to the heritage sector might mean losses in other areas like new construction and other things".[348] He did not however offer a specific rationale for favouring new build; nor was any given in the Government response to the ODPM Committee in 2005.

176. Mr Lammy told us that it would "be unusual to restrict that kind of VAT relief [i.e. zero-rated] to one sector".[349] This is not a convincing argument, given that the Treasury has agreed to refund VAT payments for repairs to listed places of worship and memorials. The Chancellor announced in the 2006 Budget that the refund scheme would continue until 2010-11 and that it would be extended to cover professional fees and repairs to fixtures and fittings.[350]

177. The present VAT regime for repairs distorts priorities, rewards neglect and works against conscientious maintenance of historic assets. The result can be either a slide towards demolition or a call on public funds for grant aid. We find it extraordinary that the Government did not take up the opportunity afforded by the EU earlier in the year to seek a carefully targeted relief when urged to do so by Heritage Link, on behalf of the sector. Opting in would have cost the Government nothing. The chance to secure such a relief has passed for now, but the Government should instead take a policy decision to return as grants some or all of the VAT paid on repair work to listed buildings. At the very least, building preservation trusts and other charitable institutions should be beneficiaries of such a scheme. In addition, proper consideration should be given to including heritage properties in private ownership where a clear public benefit can be demonstrated. The Treasury should recognise that the majority of potential private owner beneficiaries would not be high income earners; and many of the buildings at risk that would stand to benefit are not residential properties.

Fiscal relief for private owners

178. The Historic Houses Association proposed a "new limited fiscal relief" for the maintenance of historic buildings, to help fill the funding gap caused by the fall in the level of grant support from English Heritage.[351] It pointed out that such a relief would allow owners to have more control over the timing of conservation work and possibly to secure better value for money.[352] The Association expanded on the idea in oral evidence, suggesting that it be framed as an annual relief capped at a certain level and offsetting the cost of repairs against owners' personal income. The trade-off would be a degree of public access, similar to that required for a grant from English Heritage.[353]

179. This is not a new problem: the Historic Houses Association told us that the threat 30 years ago had been "really bad" and that after the Second World War up to a thousand houses had been demolished and major sales had taken place. The situation may be less severe currently, but it is undeniable that the range of grant funding available is not as great as it was. The National Trust, we were told, was no longer in a position to take custody of such houses;[354] and it was put to us that without some form of Government support, houses would gradually become denuded of effects and would eventually be sold.[355]

180. The Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund listed three choices for a private owner of a historic building: maintain it, turn it into a trust (thereby opening the door to support from the Fund) or sell it.[356] The question is: which option is of greatest benefit to the general public? Sale of the home may bring in a new owner and a new source of money to be spent on necessary repairs but offers no promise of any gain in terms of public access. The trust solution offers benefits to both the owner and the public. The argument put to us by the Historic Houses Association, however, favoured preserving a historic home as a live asset, in family ownership, in return for public access. Much of the appeal of Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire was the distinctive way in which the house had been furnished and the signs that the house was lived in rather than solely for display. It should not be assumed that all owners of significant buildings have at their disposal sufficient funds to ensure the maintenance and repair of these national assets. For those who are prepared to offer a reasonable degree of public access, an incentive in the form of a limited tax relief would be effective. The total annual sum and the level of relief for each applicant could be capped at a level that ensures an equitable distribution of this incentive and prevents the pool from being scooped by the largest applicants. We recommend that DCMS should encourage the Treasury to assess the cost of a limited relief set against income for private owners, subject to the same type of requirements as those placed on owners under the Conditional Exemption scheme.

Incentives to encourage maintenance

181. Neglect of a building's fabric leads to damage and decay which, if unchecked, can have consequences for the structure of the building. Repair costs can rise exponentially as a result, and the burden of meeting those costs may in time fall upon the public purse. Mr Venning, Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, was one of several who argued strongly in favour of encouraging better maintenance, and he urged DCMS to take a lead in convening an interdepartmental working party to promote maintenance of buildings. not just for their own good but as a way of increasing sustainability.[357]

182. Mr Wilkinson, representing Save Britain's Heritage, pointed out that preventative maintenance could save public money and that there was a case for maintenance grant funding as an incentive.[358] DCMS has recognised the validity of much of the argument and it indicated in A Force for our Future in 2001 that it would "explore [with English Heritage] how a shift of emphasis towards preventative maintenance might be reflected in grant programmes".[359] DCMS has in the past shown welcome signs of recognising the case for grant funding to encourage preventative maintenance work on buildings. It should now report on progress made in developing policy on such grant funding.

250   The CPRE for example supported the general thrust: Ev 73; the Planning Officers Society said that advice on PPG15 (and 16) 'guides local authorities wisely". Ev 156 HC 912-III, Session 205-06  Back

251   See Association of Gardens Trust Ev 36 Back

252   Q 126 Back

253   Q 126 Back

254   Ev 7; see also Q 208 Back

255   PPG 16 paras 21-2 Back

256   Research by K Aitchison; 2003-04 figures are an estimate only; no reliable figures are available for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. See Ev 8 Back

257   Archaeology Forum Ev 8 Back

258   Standing Conference on London Archaeology (SCOLA) Ev 335; Mr Ayers Q 218 Back

259   Head of Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeology Service Ev 8; Dr Bryant Q 127 Back

260   Ev 71 Back

261   Q 364 Back

262   Revisions to Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings: DCMS/ODPM Consultation Document, July 2005, para 31 Back

263   Ancient Monuments Act 1882 Back

264   Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 Back

265   Ev 129, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

266   Ev 129, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

267   See The Way Forward, DCMS, June 2004, p 10 Back

268   Ev 130, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

269   Archaeology Forum Ev 6; ALGAO Ev 46; Dr Bryant Q 107 Back

270   Q 213 Back

271   Ev 414 Back

272   Historic Environment Services Local Delivery Project, WS Atkins 2006, paras 5.6.1 and 5.6.2 Back

273   Revisions to Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings: Planning Policy Guidance Note 15, DCMS/ODPM Consultation Document, July 2005 Back

274   Q 299; The Way Forward, p 14 Back

275   Q 6 Back

276   QQ 303-5 Back

277   English Heritage, Ev 143, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

278   DCMS Ev 135; Dr Dungavell Q1 Back

279   Ev 130, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

280   Q 367 Back

281   Ev 130, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

282   Q 307 Back

283   Q 307 Back

284   Q 228 Back

285   Ev 84 Back

286   Ev 142, HC 912-III, Session 2005-03 Back

287   Q 308 Back

288   Q 306 Back

289   Heritage Protection Review: Assessment of eight pilot projects, Historic Environment Conservation, April 2006 Back

290   Archaeology Forum Ev 6, ALGAO Ev 45, RESCUE Ev 304 Back

291   Ev 4 Back

292   Ev 6 Back

293   Ev 6 Back

294   Ev 150, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

295   Ev 121, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

296   Ev 136 Back

297   National Trust Q 56; Country Land and Business Association Q 77; IHBC and the Planning Officers' Society Q 107; The Archaeology Forum Q 211; RIBA Ev 314. See also Mr Lammy Q 360 Back

298   Ev 45 Back

299   Ev 84 Back

300   QQ 368 and 370 Back

301   See Mr Wilkinson Q1 Back

302   Q1 Back

303   Advice from Mr Bob Kindred, Specialist Adviser to the Committee Back

304   Shimizu v Westminster City Council [1997] All E. R. 481; see Protecting our historic environment: making the system work better, DCMS, July 2003, para 65 Back

305   Mr Venning, Q 2 Back

306   Protecting the historic environment: making the system work better, July 2003, DCMS, para 65 Back

307   Q 6 Back

308   QQ 363 and 365 Back

309   Advice from Mr Bob Kindred, Specialist Adviser to the Committee; see also Mr Coupe Ev 130 Back

310   Protecting our Historic Environment, DCMS July 2003, para 66 Back

311   Planning Officers' Society Q 109; Mr Kindred Q 128 Back

312   Mr Wilkinson Q 24 Back

313   Ev 154, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

314   Mr Way, Q104 Back

315   Dr Crowe Q 237 Back

316   Buildings at Risk - a sample survey, English Heritage, 1992, ISBN 1 85074 364 9 Back

317   Advice from Bob Kindred, Specialist Adviser to the Committee. Back

318   Q 333 Back

319   Buildings at Risk 2005, English Heritage Back

320   Sites are established under the World Heritage Convention, adopted by UNESCO in 1972 and ratified by the UK in 1984. Back

321   Hansard 14 December 2005 col. 480 WH Back

322   Ev 226 Back

323   Q 312 Back

324   Q 60 Back

325   Ev 53 Back

326   Q 359 Back

327   Committee of Public Accounts, Twenty-ninth Report, Session 1992-93, HC 252, Protecting and Managing England's Heritage Property, para 34 Back

328   Q 359 Back

329   Q 366 Back

330   Q 144 Back

331   Q 312 Back

332   Q 366 Back

333   Ev 53 Back

334   Para 2.23 Back

335   Mr Burchnall Q 147 Back

336   Ev 226 Back

337   Hansard Written Answer, 8 June 2006, col.859W Back

338   Ev 161 Back

339   Q 343 Back

340   Mr Babb Q 142; Mr Spooner Q 170 Back

341   Ev 74; SAVE Britain's Heritage Ev 318 Back

342   Ev 74 Back

343   Ev 16 Back

344   Government response to the Eleventh Report of the ODPM Select Committee, on The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration, Session 2003-04, HC 47-I, response to recommendation 4 Back

345   The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration, 11th Report of the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Session 2003-04, HC 47-I Back

346   Hansard Written Answer, 13 March 2006, col. 1983W Back

347   Hansard Written Answer27 October 2005, col. 527W Back

348   Q 388 Back

349   Q 393 Back

350   Financial and Budget Statement Report 2006 para 5.75 Back

351   Ev 182 Back

352   Ev 187 Back

353   QQ97 - 100 Back

354   See Mr Burton Q 70 Back

355   Mr Hervey-Bathurst, QQ 95 and 105 Back

356   Q248 Back

357   Q 12; see also evidence from Maintain our Heritage, Ev 232. The merits are set out in detail in Putting it off: how lack of maintenance fails our heritage, published by Maintain Our Heritage, November 2004. Back

358   Q 12 Back

359   A Force for our Future, DCMS, 2001, para 4.13 Back

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