Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation
Greater London Authority Bill
I refer to the above Bill currently before your Public Bill Committee.
The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) is the professional body for the United Kingdom representing conservation specialists and historic environment practitioners in the public and private sectors. The Institute exists to establish the highest standards of conservation practice, to support the effective protection and enhancement of the historic environment, and to promote heritage-led regeneration and access to the historic environment for all.
The Institute understands that the Committee is at an advanced stage of its deliberations and apologises for this late submission. The IHBC trusts that you and your Committee will note and consider carefully our concerns at a particular aspect of the Bill and draft appropriate amendments to it.
The IHBC is concerned at the provisions of Section 2B of the Greater London Authority Bill. This would give the Mayor power over "connected Applications"; specifically Listed Building Consent and Conservation Area Consent Applications [S2B (4);(5);(6)]. The IHBC recognises that without such powers the Mayor might find that an individual Local Planning Authority (the London Borough) could, if so minded, refuse any associated listed building or conservation areas consents and thereby prevent a proposal favoured by the Mayor proceeding. Indeed, there are clear benefits in having all aspects of a proposal (as covered by the planning permission and the consent regimes) considered together, by a single authority, through an holistic and comprehensive process. However, the IHBC, in particular its members practicing in London, both private and public sector, are very concerned that neither the Mayor's office, nor the GLA's have any independent professional historic buildings and conservation area advisors able to assess any proposal brought before the Mayor under these provisions. This contrasts markedly with the current situation, where there is a wealth of experience and expertise to be found within the Conservation Teams working with and advising the London Boroughs' and City Planning Departments. This skills base was acknowledged in Circular 01/2001 which enabled the majority of consent applications to be determined by these London Planning Authorities. English Heritage retained a strategic role advising and directing on Grade I, II* and certain key types of applications for Grade II listed buildings. The Bill before you, if left unamended, would, for those huge majority of cases where English Heritage no longer give observations, allow the Mayor to make decisions on London's heritage without the benefit of any appropriate specialist expert advice. There is a clear risk inherent in these provisions that insufficient analysis and weight may be given to the special interest and character of London's heritage and that short-term planning gains may be given undue prominence.
The Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 recognises the national and international importance of London's heritage and makes specific provisions for the capital. Where determination of consent applications passes to the Secretary of State, particularly for applications for demolition, she is obliged to obtain and give appropriate weight to the advice of English Heritage. The IHBC strongly urges that the GLA Bill is amended so that the Mayor has a similar obligation placed upon him in the exercising of the above provisions such that all consent applications called in by him are subject to consultation and direction by English Heritage. This consultation might reasonably embrace the local knowledge and expertise of the Conservation Team within the relevant Borough. This will allow the Mayor a fuller range of advice for him to consider and will help prevent any perception that the importance of London's listed buildings and conservations areas has not been taken fully into account by him when he arrives at any decision on development. The IHBC recommends that one of the following three options is attached to the Bill:-
1/ The Mayor should retain within his staff suitably skilled expert professional advice on the historic built environment and when considering any connected Listed Building Consent or Conservation Area Consent application obtain and give due weight to its advice or
2/ The Mayor should be subject to a power of determination by English Heritage over any connected Listed Building Consent or Conservation Area Consent application and that the local Conservation Team should be consulted and due weight given to its advice or
3/ Any application called in by the Mayor should automatically be referred to the Secretary of State if a Listed Building Consent or Conservation Area Consent application is connected to it. The Secretary of State to consult English Heritage and others in accordance with the provisions of the 1990 Act.
The IHBC would favour option 2/ as this would be the most efficient system, closest fit with the current process and best utilize the acknowledged expertise within English Heritage's London Region and the Conservation Teams within the London Planning Authorities. It would also avoid the duplication and potential competition of advice inherent in Option 1/ and avoid the further burdens being placed on the Secretary of State and her Government Office for London that would come from Option 3/.
I trust these comments are helpful. Should the Committee wish to discuss the above with the IHBC do, please, contact me.