Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by English Heritage (L 42)

1. English Heritage is the UK Government’s statutory adviser and a statutory consultee on the historic environment. We advise Government on the designation of nationally significant historic places and advise local planning authorities how to manage historic places through the planning system.

2. For more than a decade we have been working with local decision-makers through the provision of training and guidance, including through our HELM (Historic Environment – Local Management) website, and Heritage Champions, a network of local councillors who champion their local heritage. We actively engage with rural communities preparing Parish Plans and Village Design Statements and with ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) in developing a tool kit to assist in community-led planning. We know from this work that local communities value their heritage. For them, heritage defines the character of their villages, towns and cities and makes the places they live unique. We, therefore, fully support the objective of the Bill to empower local communities which also has the potential to benefit the historic environment.

3. However, we are concerned that there are provisions in the Bill which have the potential to reduce the level of protection for heritage of more than local interest. We are particularly concerned about the impact of removing existing protection for conservation areas and the setting of listed buildings.

4. Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas

Nothing in the proposals will override the need for listed building consent (to alter or demolish a listed building) or conservation area consent (to demolish a building in a conservation area). However, the statutory planning considerations that have for many years protected the setting of listed buildings, and the special qualities of a conservation area, from inappropriate new development have been removed. Schedule 12 of the Bill disapplies the provisions of Sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 in respect of neighbourhood plans and development orders. These statutory requirements have been regarded by the courts as a fundamental element of heritage protection. The effect of the Bill would be that permission could be given for development that could seriously damage the setting of a listed building or the special qualities of a conservation area without proper consideration of their importance to this and future generations. Heritage assets of more than local interest are of concern to a wider community than those who live locally. For instance, the conservation areas in Chester and York city centres are appreciated by millions of people a year, only a few of whom actually live in them. That is why the protection of heritage assets of more than local interest is found in legislation. The removal of these provisions will mean that the views of that wider community will be secondary to the views of the local community endorsed by the referendum on the more neighbourhood development order.

5. Undesignated Archaeology In addition, English Heritage believes that if Neighbourhood Development Orders operate as currently proposed, there could be unintentional, but potentially very serious damage to, and even total loss of, nationally and internationally important undesignated archaeology. This is because a Neighbourhood Development Order will not be made on the basis of the level of detail submitted for a planning application because it could cover a number of different properties. This could result in the loss of or damage to undesignated sites with archaeological potential where it would be impractical and disproportionate to require a desk-top and/or field investigation. The evidential value of archaeology has a significance that extends beyond the interest of the local community and can have national or even international significance. In addition some sites, such as Boxgrove (where some of the earliest human remains in Britain have been found) do not meet the criteria for scheduling (because their limits cannot be defined) but are still of crucial national and international importance. They rely only upon the planning system for their protection.

6. The views of the wider community

The Bill contains provisions for limiting the extent of neighbourhood planning on issues which are of more than local value, for example national infrastructure. The same approach could be taken to the protection of the historic environment for those elements which have a national significance beyond that of the immediate place in which they are located. They are not protected purely in the interests of the current inhabitants of the neighbourhood in which they sit but because they hold a heritage that is potentially important to all of us and to future generations. At present the Bill does not include a mechanism to take this wider interest into account so the local authority and wider community could be prevented from protecting what they value because the Neighbourhood Development Order is drawn up only by the local community.

7. Those aspects of the historic environment that are solely protected by the planning system, such as registered battlefields and undesignated archaeology, are at risk of losing protection through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Neighbourhood Development Plans if planning decisions reflect only the current views of the local neighbourhood. That can be avoided if there are appropriate safeguards to balance the interests of the wider community.

January 2011