Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Archaeology Forum (L 77)

Evidence to the Public Bill Committee: Localism Bill

1. The Archaeology Forum (TAF) is a grouping of the key, non-governmental organisations concerned with archaeology in the UK. Its members include the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK, the Council for British Archaeology, the Institute of Conservation, the Institute for Archaeologists, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, Rescue, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers and the Society of Museum Archaeologists UK.

2. TAF welcomes the Government’s aim to engage and empower local communities and recognises the potential which this shift brings to benefit the historic environment. However, unless there are adequate safeguards, there is a risk that the Bill will seriously undermine those benefits and lead to a reduction in the level of protection currently afforded to the historic environment.

3. The planning system is instrumental in the protection of the historic environment. The vast majority of the historic environment is not designated but is protected as a material consideration when planning decisions are made. Many archaeological sites and other heritage assets are undesignated but, nonetheless, are nationally important. Consequently, any proposals which remove the need to consider the impact of development upon the historic environment through the consideration of a planning application must be carefully scrutinised to ensure that there are proper safeguards elsewhere to protect the historic environment.

4. For this reason TAF has serious concerns about the provisions in Schedule 12 to the Bill expressly disapplying the duties in relation to listed buildings and conservation areas imposed by sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 when considering neighbourhood development orders. It is just such safeguards that need to be introduced, not removed, when the need for a planning application is replaced effectively by new permitted development rights.

5. Indeed, the Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should recognise the importance (which is more than of local interest) of the following:

· nationally important archaeology

· listed buildings and scheduled monuments (including their settings)

· listed places of worship that enjoy the ecclesiastical exemption (and extensions thereto)

· conservation areas

· registered parks and gardens

· World Heritage Sites (including their buffer zones)

and expressly require that they be taken into account as a material consideration in the formulation and assessment of neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders. The Bill and the NPPF should also acknowledge the strategic importance of policies for the protection of the historic environment, thereby helping to ensure that there is continuity of protection from a national through to a local level.

6. If neighbourhood planning is to achieve the desired benefits, not only for local communities but also for the historic environment, the support of local authorities and, in particular, local authority heritage services will be crucial and such authorities and services must be properly funded and resourced to provide appropriate advice and expertise. In the absence of adequate funding in all areas there will be risks both of abuse and of neighbourhood planning becoming the sole preserve of more affluent areas.

7. Moreover, TAF notes the proposed duty on local authorities in Part 4 of Chapter 3 of the Bill to consider expressions of interest by a relevant body in providing a non-statutory service on behalf of the authority, and the requirement for this to be followed by an appropriate procurement exercise. If and insofar as this might apply to local authority archaeological and historic environment services, it would be necessary clearly to define the scope and quality of such services to ensure that there is no diminution in the level of service provided. Guidance should be issued as a matter of urgency to local authorities on the expected scope and minimum requirements for such historic environment services.

8. Despite the very real concerns expressed above there is much in the Bill which can potentially benefit the historic environment. The engagement of local communities in valuing and caring for the environment in which they live and work is key to the management and protection of the historic environment. Furthermore, TAF welcomes specific provisions in the Bill such as those relating to community assets (which could potentially be applied to heritage assets); those introducing improved enforcement rules and those revising the community infrastructure levy to broaden the range of costs in respect of which the levy can be applied. Such potential benefits should not be allowed to be overshadowed by a failure to provide adequate safeguards for the protection of the historic environment.

February 2011