Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Historic Houses Association (L 121)

The Historic Houses Association represents the interests of Britain’s historic houses, castles and gardens in private ownership. The HHA has 1,500 member properties throughout the UK of which about 500 are regularly open to the public. The only criterion for membership of the HHA is that the member property is listed.

The HHA estimates that approximately two-thirds of the built heritage is privately owned and maintained. Between them HHA members represent, collectively, one of the greatest ‘ownership’ of listed buildings in Britain: both I and II* properties as well as of Grade II properties, many being ancillary buildings on large estates.

The costs of maintaining Britain’s private houses, castles and gardens are significant and expenditure by private owners in looking after England’s historic environment is substantial.  In 2003/04 the private sector spent £3.4 billion on historic buildings (Valuing our Heritage 2007: National Trust, English Heritage, Heritage Link, Historic Houses Association, Heritage Lottery Fund).  Only 10% of the costs of major repairs to privately owned historic houses are funded by public grant, so ensuring the economic viability of historic houses is of great importance.

Key issues

· Safeguards for the historic environment, currently in PPS 5, should not be removed

· The composition of Neighbourhood Forums needs to be clarified

· Neighbourhood Forums should not supersede the powers of local, democratically elected bodies

· Protection for the settings of historic houses and for those in conservation areas should not be reduced

· The remit of the Independent Examiner should be strengthened, particularly in respect of the National Planning Policy Framework

Background

1. Britain’s historic houses are an important resource, which benefits the entire nation. For example, 80% of international visitors say that their principal reason for visiting Britain is connected to heritage and culture.

2. Historic houses provide character, distinctiveness and a sense of place and help create pride in where people live. 87% of British people think that the historic environment plays an important part in the cultural life of the country.

3. In its responses to the consultation on Planning Policy Statement 5 on the historic environment, the HHA has already made clear its preference for a fast, effective, transparent planning system which is responsive to the needs of local communities.

General Comments

4. It is not clear from the draft Bill how Localism will work in practice. In some parts of the country there may be no interest in the development of Neighbourhood Forums, while in others there may be competing interest groups which lack a clear popular mandate.

5. The operation of Neighbourhood Forums and in particular the development of Neighbourhood Plans are likely to be time-consuming and expensive and as a consequence are likely to be attractive only to particular types of interest group, or to those backed by commercial interests.

Impact on Heritage

6. If this is the case, the owners of historic houses may well be faced either with a Neighbourhood Forum which prevents all development in its area, including that which helps ensure the economic viability of historic buildings, or one which advocates commercial developments that adversely affect the setting of the historic environment.

7. The sympathetic adaptation of historic places is one of the key ways in which they are able to secure their futures. Privately owned historic houses have little access to external funding and without the ability to undertake sensitive developments, they are likely to stagnate and die, so any Neighbourhood Plans which undermine this capacity would be counter-productive.

8. At the same time, the strength of many houses exists not only in their buildings, but in their settings, so any undermining of safeguards which protect the settings of historic buildings would not only be detrimental, but could even endanger their very existence.

Neighbourhood Forums

9. The re are concerns about the composition of Neighbourhood Forums. While the bi ll states that a Neighbourhood Forum must include at least three people who live in, or wish to live in, the area, the means by which the Local Authority is to decide which group best represents the community is not made clear . Proper guidance is required to enable the system to work . If the planning process does not ensure broad community in volvement there is a real danger that unrepresentative single issue pressure groups or commercial interests will set the agenda . Moreover, the legislation must overtly r ecognise the responsibilities placed on those who actually have to manage a particular historic asset.

10. The Bill does not make it clear why the principle of localism should be separated from

the existing democratic process , or why Neighbourhood Forums, for example, should supersede the powers of local democratically elected bodies, such as Parish Councils. The HHA is concerned that localism should remain part of the democratic process and that Neighbourhood Forums should not supersede the powers of local democratically elected bodies.

National Planning Policy Framework

11. In order to work effectively, the Localism Bill nee ds to be set against a National Planning Policy Framework which reflects the needs of the historic environment, embodied in the existing Planning Policy Statement 5, particularly in respect of issues such as proportionality and economic viability. Development must be proportionate in the context of the historic environment, as must the planning requirements on those who manage the historic environment, to ensure that it is conserved for the nation. The best way to conserve a historic building is to ensure that it has an economically viable function and this principle should be embodied in the Localism Bill.

DETAILED COMMENTS

Neighbourhood plans (NPs) and the H istoric E nvironment

12. In order to protect Britain’s historic buildings and enable them to remain economically viable, it is vital that the National Planning Policy Framework has a clear and direct effect on them. It would not be desirable for NP’s to either prevent any change in relation to the historic environment, or to issue Neighbourhood Development Orders which permit developments that adversely affect the setting of a historic building.

13. This Bill should demonstrably uphold the key principle of the existing UK planning system, which is to achieve balance between competing, but not necessarily equally articulate or resourced, interests for the long-term public benefit. It should also make it clear that sustainable development, taking into account the frequently competing needs of communities, the environment, and the economy, is the purpose of all planning including Neighbourhood Development Plans.

14. In addition, it should be acknowledged that historic environment policies in Local Development Frameworks are always of strategic importance and should already form part of the Local Authority’s Core Strategies. NDPs should be drawn up in conformity with overarching historic environment policies.

Neighbourhood development orders (NDOs) and the historic environment

15. If an NDO is in place then development listed in it will not require a planning application. However, much protection of built heritage currently exists only through the planning system, which is the way in which heritage protection is given to conservation areas, registered parks and gardens, unscheduled monuments, locally listed heritage, battlefields and the settings of all kinds of heritage including listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

16. If an NDO obviates the need for a planning application, these mechanisms cannot operate and no heritage protection exists, except where specific heritage consents are needed. However, these consents give no protection to the setting of historic buildings, so NDOs could have unintended consequences.

17. Significantly, Schedule 12 paragraph 23 of the Bill would result in amendments to sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and abolishes the normal statutory duties of local authorities, when drawing up NDOs, to take into account the preservation, enhancement and settings of listed buildings and Conservation Areas. Thereby, an NDO can effectively abolish heritage protection in an area, and the fact that it is doing so would not have to be taken into account when it was being drafted and adopted.

18. While a draft NDO must be examined by an Independent Examiner, who must decide that it is ‘appropriate with regard to national policy’ to make the NDO, this safeguard seems inadequate. Historic houses, wherever they are located, are an asset to the nation and the Localism Bill should state plainly that it is not acceptable to place listed buildings or their settings, under threat.

National Planning Policy Framework

19. The HHA welcomes the aspiration to produce a ‘shorter, more decentralised and less bureaucratic’ Planning Policy Framework and will be pleased to contribute to its development, as it did with last year’s new Policy Planning Statement 5 on the historic environment.

20. It is worth remembering that PPS 5 was specifically drawn up to be succinct and effective and its aspirations to streamline the consent process and reduce complexity were widely welcomed. As such, PPS 5 is much shorter than PPG 15 and PPG 16, which it replaced. PPS 5 represents a clear and concise approach to planning policies in respect of the historic environment and should form the basis of the new National Planning Policy Framework in this area.

21. The value of historic houses to local communities is already embodied in PPS 5, which clearly states ‘the positive contribution that conservation of heritage assets...can make to the establishment and maintenance of sustainable communities and economic vitality’.

22. The HHA believes that much that is within PPS5 should be kept within the National Planning Policy Framework. For example, PPS 5’s stated ambition is that ‘wherever possible, heritage assets are put to an appropriate and viable use’. The best way of conserving a historic building is to find an economic use for it, strengthening financial viability and enhancing a historic building’s public as well as private value. This needs to be retained explicitly in the NPPF.

23. HE3 of PPS 5 recognises the historic environment’s ‘potential to be a catalyst for regeneration in an area, in particular through leisure, tourism and economic development’. However, this should not automatically result in historic houses being designated as Assets of Community Value, subject to the right to buy.

24. The NPPF should be much more than just a procedural guide to the drawing up of Neighbourhood Plans and the way that these sit in the broader planning framework. It must cover policy in significant detail and protection for the country’s unique historic environment should feature prominently within it.

February 2011