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

Memorandum by English Heritage (AH 48)


  The scale of the proposed housing development has important consequences for the historic environment. Our evidence examines the challenges that that development poses for the historic environment and sets out some issues that need to be addressed. But the proposed development should not be seen as a threat to the historic environment. Rather it should be seen as an opportunity to realise the potential of the historic environment to create new sustainable communities and reinvigorate existing ones. The evidence concludes with some observations on the ODPM's Planning for Housing Provision.


  1.  English Heritage is the Government's statutory adviser on all matters relating to the historic environment in England. We are a non-departmental public body established under the National Heritage Act 1983 to help people understand, value, care for and enjoy England's historic environment.

  2.  The historic environment is all around us and encompasses the whole of our historic landscape and buried archaeology, not just visible buildings and scheduled monuments. It is our most accessible cultural resource. It has a powerful influence on peoples' sense of identity and civic pride. It contributes significantly to the character and "sense of place" of rural and urban communities. It is at the heart of sustainable growth.

  3.  English Heritage accepts the need for greater land-allocation for housing development and for the supply to be made more flexible than at present to ensure that the right houses are delivered in the right areas. English Heritage believes that by ensuring decent homes for all this will enhance the quality of life for many people and ensure they are able to better enjoy the environment, including the heritage dimension.

  4.  The scale of the proposed development has important consequences for the historic environment. It should not be seen as a threat to that environment but as an opportunity to make best use of its full potential to help create new sustainable communities and reinvigorate existing ones. The historic environment, properly understood, sensitively managed and intelligently developed, can make a positive difference to the proposed housing development programme.


  5.  The historic environment is sensitive to change. A number of issues need to be addressed in relation to the scale of housing development to ensure the potential of the historic environment is fully realised.

  6.  As a general rule, the emphasis should be on regeneration, the re-use of brownfield land and achieving high densities for new developments. In areas of historic environment sensitivity, however, the densities should not be so high as to adversely affect the heritage interest.

  7.  There is a danger that bringing forward significant new areas of greenfield land will detract from the reuse of previously developed land and result in the opportunity of regeneration of historic settlements being missed.

  8.  Appropriate environmental assessment of possible housing land (such as historic landscape characterisation and archaeological evaluation) needs to take place and the results taken into account before decisions are taken on whether to allocate land for housing. In 2004 English Heritage published A Welcome Home which applied these techniques to The Thames Gateway and we are able to advise those wishing to undertake them elsewhere.

  9.  There is a risk in looking just at the overall demand for housing and seeking to provide for it. English Heritage is concerned that in attractive rural areas there will be a considerable demand for homes and some distinguishing between different types of demand might be advisable. Otherwise there could be development pressure on National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and for the expansion of settlements that are currently largely designated as Conservation Areas or which contain a high proportion of listed buildings.

  10.  Careful consideration will need to be given to the environmental constraints of local housing markets as part of the overall assessment of the amount of land allocated for housing. There is probably therefore some need to distinguish between different segments of the market and to ensure that the right kinds of home are delivered in the right places.


  11.  English Heritage believe that housing development provides an opportunity to exploit the potential of the historic environment to create sustainable communities, places where people want to live and work.

  12.  By focusing on what already exists and understanding the unique and varied character of housing in each part of England, we believe that new development can draw on that special character and strengthen regional and local identity both through highlighting the qualities of what already exists as well as inspiring new development.

  13.  English Heritage believes that housing growth developments should seek to connect with the past through the reuse of historic buildings, public spaces and urban layouts. Key historic buildings add quality and visual interest to a new development. Through the use of imaginative, high quality design and appropriate materials, new buildings can be stitched into historic areas with an overall enhancement of local character, while surviving older buildings can be reconnected with their urban environment. New buildings which respond positively to their historic settings and neighbours are popular and help to create local identity which links a sense of continuity with the positive welcoming of change.

  14.  The enduring success of many traditional high density settlements suggests they might act as a useful model for new development.

  15.  Re-use and adaptation of heritage assets is at the heart of sustainable development. Throughout the growth areas, English Heritage has been investing in conservation-led regeneration. Examples include projects in Gravesend, Rochester/Chatham, Forest Gate (Newham), Waltham Abbey, St Neots, Luton, Newport Pagnell and Wolverton.

  16.  Re-using historic buildings is good for the natural as well as the historic environment. The historic environment represents embodied energy in the form of timber, stone, bricks and glass. Research by the Building Research Establishment has shown that a "typical" Victorian house contains energy equivalent to 15,000 litres of petrol, which is enough to drive a car five times round the Earth.

  17.  Statistics based on houses of different vintages in Manchester, reported in Heritage Counts 2003, showed that a Victorian house proved to be almost £1,000 per square 100 metre cheaper to maintain and inhabit each year than a property from the 1980s.

  18.  Re-using historic buildings contributes to the achievement of sustainable development targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also reduces the use of new aggregates for construction and reduces the amount of waste in need of disposal.

  19.  Relatively inexpensive improvements can go a long way to making older homes more efficient and sustainable.


  20.  English Heritage responded to the ODPM's consultation Planning for Housing Provision. We raised a number of issues, some of which are summarised below.

  21.  English Heritage welcomes the recognition of inevitable environmental impacts of new housing in the second of the key principles in the consultation paper but is concerned that the phrase "need to be minimised" is rather weaker than the advice in paragraph 19 of PPS1 which states that: "Planning authorities should seek to enhance the environment as part of development proposals. Significant adverse impacts on the environment should be avoided and alternative options which might reduce or eliminate those impacts pursued."

  22.  In paragraph 28 of PPS1 it further states "Planning authorities should seek to achieve outcomes which enable social, environmental and economic objectives to be achieved together." This is rather different in tone from the "minimising environmental impact" approach of the consultation which implies undue precedence being given to the supply of housing over the effect on the environment.

  23.  English Heritage believes greater emphasis needs to be given to the principles of achieving social, environmental and economic objectives together rather than suggesting it is a trade-off between them.

  24.  The Government's promotion of sustainable development should be set out more explicitly. Development in areas where there is little or no demand is wasteful of scarce resources, but equally unconstrained development in areas already under pressure can have a seriously detrimental impact on infrastructure, the local environment, the character of historic settlements and so on.

  25.  The role of the sustainability appraisal is key in informing judgements about trade-offs. It is essential that the current sustainability appraisal procedures are robust enough to do this.

  26.  English Heritage can see benefit in a 15-year time horizon for land allocation provided that proper evaluation of the land, including historic landscape characterisation or other parallel assessment of the land's character before the decision to allocate it is taken. Such techniques should be included in "the evidence base for quicker decisions and better outcomes".

  27.  "The summary of key changes" does not include any mention of social, environmental and resource impacts which are mentioned elsewhere in Planning for Housing Provision. English Heritage believes mention should be made of these issues as they will play a significant part in determining where new house-building takes place. Environmental considerations need to be clearly "factored in".

  28.  English Heritage supports the proposal to encourage greater joint working between local authorities to minimise distortions in the market caused by adjacent authorities taking different lines on housing development.

  29.  English Heritage also wishes to restate the desire to engage at the earliest stages of proposals for development of housing with local authorities, to help others give the historic environment due consideration, and help speed appropriate schemes through the planning process.

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