Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Institute of Archaeologists

1. Summary

1.1 It is Government’s avowed intention to maintain the level or protection currently afforded to the historic environment by the recently published Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning and the Historic Environment, a document which has the broad support of the historic environment sector.

1.2 The National Planning Policy Framework, as currently drafted, would (no doubt inadvertently) reduce that level of protection and compromise Government’s ability to promote truly sustainable growth, in particular, by:

placing undue emphasis on development at the expense of the historic environment; and

undermining detailed policies for the protection of both designated and undesignated heritage assets.

1.3 The draft NPPF should be revised to ensure that the historic environment is at the heart of sustainable development and not subordinate to it.

2. Introduction

2.1 The Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) is the professional body for archaeologists and related professions concerned with the study and care of the historic environment. It promotes best practice in archaeology and provides a self-regulatory quality assurance framework for the sector and those it serves.

2.2 The IfA has over 3,000 members and more than 60 registered practices across the United Kingdom and abroad. Its members work in all branches of the discipline: heritage management, planning advice, excavation, finds and environmental study, buildings recording, underwater and aerial archaeology, museums, conservation, survey, research and development, teaching and liaison with the community, industry and the commercial and financial sectors.

3. Response to Specific Questions

Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

3.1 No. Further guidance and clarification is needed to ensure that the historic environment (which includes both designated and undesignated heritage assets) is properly considered and adequately safeguarded within a more streamlined, “bottom up” planning regime.

Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

3.2 We do not take issue with the Brundtland definition of “sustainable development” but do have concerns as to the way that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is interpreted in the NPPF. The approach (allowing development “unless the adverse impacts of allowing [it] would significantly and demonstrably [my underlining] outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole” (paragraph 14)) is inconsistent with other policies in the Framework and, in particular, those policies protecting the historic environment. For instance paragraph 184 provides that “Where the application will lead to substantial harm to or total loss of a designated heritage asset local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that loss or harm …”.

3.3 These two approaches cannot be wholly reconciled and the concern is that, given the permissive tone of the Framework generally, any uncertainty or inconsistency will be interpreted in favour of development without fully reflecting the environmental implications of any decision. As the draft framework baldly states: “the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’” (paragraph 19). This is not, in our view, a balanced or workable approach.

3.4 There is a real risk that sites and buildings of archaeological interest will be destroyed without adequate investigation, analysis and dissemination if a permissive approach is adopted without adequate safeguards to protect the historic environment. Nor is it not enough to say that local authorities are in a position to rebut the presumption in favour of sustainable development if there are unacceptable impacts upon the historic environment since:

the policies for the protection of heritage assets are inconsistent with those promoting sustainable development (as seen above) and may be overridden;

without adequate information to assess the implications of development for the historic environment (or a clear policy requirement for applicants to produce such information) permission is likely to be granted “in default”; and

hard-pressed local authorities cannot be expected to “plug the gaps” in planning policy. Local authority archaeological and heritage services around the country are under severe threat in the current financial climate and need the support of strong and clear planning policy for the management and protection of the historic environment.

3.5 Nor are our concerns confined to the protection of designated heritage assets. Although undesignated assets are cursorily dealt with at paragraph 185 of the draft NPPF, fuller and clearer policy provision is required (as is provided by PPS 5) to ensure that such assets are properly managed and protected notwithstanding any presumption in favour of sustainable development. Over 90% of the historic environment is undesignated and is, for the most part, solely protected as a “material consideration” in the planning process. If this protection is inadvertently reduced, irreversible damage is likely to occur and the opportunities which the historic environment affords to contribute to regeneration, place-shaping and tackling climate changes will not be fully realised.

3.6 Policies for the management and protection of the historic environment should be at the heart of sustainable development. As drafted, however, such policies appear largely to be subordinated to it.

3.7 What is needed is policy which clearly and consistently ensures that due regard is at all times paid to the management and protection of the historic environment as an integral part of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

3.8 No. The policies are in places internally inconsistent, as noted above.

Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

3.9 No. The Government’s Statement on the Historic Environment for England 2010 is a key statement whose principles we endorse. This Statement has never formally been withdrawn and its status should be clarified in the NPPF. At the very least, the NPPF should endorse its principles or make clear which of those principles no longer inform policy. Furthermore, the NPPF needs to be underpinned by authoritative good practice guidance (such as that currently being prepared for the historic environment) whose status and weight should be made clear in the Framework.

Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

3.10 No comment.

Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?

3.11 No comment

4. Recommendation

4.1 The draft NPPF should be revised in accordance with the detailed representations submitted by IfA to the Department for Communities and Local Government dated 1 September 2011.

8 September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011