Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

ERR 49

Submission from the Historic Houses Association

The Historic Houses Association represents Britain’s historic houses, castles and gardens in private ownership. There are 1,500 HHA properties throughout the UK of which about a third are open to the public. 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 ‘ownerships’ of listed buildings in Britain: both I and II* properties as well as of Grade II properties, many being ancillary buildings. The HHA welcomes 13 million visitors each year and one in five of all HHA properties offers educational visits - there are more than 300,000 such visits annually.

The beneficial effect that public visiting to these places has on the wider economy is estimated at an additional £1.6 billion, from inbound tourists alone. Over 30,000 people are directly employed by HHA members or are employed in businesses in their grounds.

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.  HHA owners spend £140 million per year (HHA Survey, 2009), but the backlog of urgent repairs at HHA member houses totals over £390 million, an increase of £130 million on the figure six years earlier. Only a small fraction of the costs of major repairs to privately owned historic houses is funded by public grant. Therefore, ensuring the economic viability of historic houses is of great importance.

The HHA appreciates that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is a central element in the Government’s aim for strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth, powered by investment, exportstechnology and enterprise.

In an effort to stimulate this growth the Government wants to make sure the appropriate conditions are in place to encourage investment and exports, boost enterprise, support green growth and build a responsible business culture. 

a. Principal aims of the Bill 

The HHA understands that the principal aims of the Bill are:

1. Improving the employment tribunal system by encouraging parties to come together to settle their dispute before an employment tribunal claim is lodged.

2. Establishing a new Competition and Markets Authority, bringing together the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission.

3. Setting the purpose of the UK Green Investment Bank in legislation.

4. Addressing the disparity between directors’ pay and long-term company performance by giving shareholders of UK-quoted companies binding votes on directors’ remuneration.

5. Deterring the importation and sale of unauthorised replicas of designs which qualify for copyright protection.

b. Simplification of Regulation

The HHA understand that the Bill will apparently simplify regulation by reducing inspection burdens on businesses of all sizes and increasing SME access to reliable, consistent advice on complying with regulations in areas such as trading standards, health and safety and environmental health and introducing powers to put a time-limit on new regulations via 'sunset clauses’. Departments should make a case to keep regulation, otherwise it will be scrapped.

However, the HHA is concerned that the recommendations of the Tourism Regulation Taskforce are not to be implemented in this Bill. In particular, the HHA believes this legislation could have been included and still wishes to see the introduction of:

· Clearer guidance on maintaining the character of a listed building and a derogation for small enterprises to allow owners and managers to manage the risk flexibly, reasonably and proportionately;

· Adjustment to the Use Classes Order and/or the General Permitted Development Order to allow tourism related development to benefit and a more liberal approach to alternative uses for heritage assets;

· Revisions to the procedures for the UK visa regime to make it more competitive and Britain a more welcoming destination for tourists;

· Amendment to civil partnership and marriages regulations so that they no longer preclude the use of a building or room with a religious connection;

· Simplification of a whole suite of food and drink regulations;

· Amendment and simplification of the Licensing Act including the introduction of a de minimis level for low alcohol sales under which a full licence is not required ;

· Exemption to the Age Discrimination provisions of the Equality Act to allow accommodation providers to focus on particular age markets

· Development of guidance specific to tourism businesses to help them comply with health and safety legislation and ensure regulators act consistently and proportionately.

c. Heritage Consent Regimes

Of most importance to the historic environment is the intention to improve the operation of heritage consent regimes, apparently ‘without reducing necessary protections’. Notably, schedule 16 of the Bill allows for the introduction of Heritage Partnership Agreements , which could be of particular value to larger historic houses and properties where consent issues may be more complex , involving more than one type of protection .

Heritage Partnership Agreements will permit the ‘granting of listed building consent under section 8(1) in respect of specified works for the alteration or extension of the listed building to which the agreement relates and specify any terms on which that consent is given and any conditions attached to it’. HHA member houses were part of the original pilots for testing HPA’s during the Heritage Protection Review and the HHA believes they can deliver results, certainty and partnership.

As well as putting Heritage Partnership Agreements between local authorities and heritage owners onto a statutory basis, t he changes would merge Conservation Area C onsent with planning permission and allow parts of buildings to be specifically excluded from listing.

However, the issue of the right of appeal against listing decisions should also have been dealt with in the Bill. The introduction of a right of appeal by owners on designation decisions made by English Heritage is essential. The right of appeal should be restricted to owners, in line with the planning system. In particular, for domestically-occupied private properties, there should be no third party right of appeal.

The new legislation should make the heritage system easier to use, but the changes in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill are modest and not the solution to heritage protection problems faced by owners and mangers of the historic environment.

For this reason t here is a need for proper heritage protection reform and while the Bill does make some useful amendments to exis ting heritage legislation, it will benefit a relatively small minority of cases. Even before recent expenditure reductions IHBC figures show that only 70% of local planning authorities had a Conservation Officer and the number is now significantly less. T h is is on e of the key problems that the Bill does not address , that local authorities do not have the skilled staff needed to operate the current heritage protection system.

July 2012

Prepared 18th July 2012