The future of the planning system in England Contents

12Environmental and historical protections


213.A major feature of the planning system since the Second World War has been ensuring the protection of environmental and historic sites and buildings.731 As a consequence much natural habitat and wildlife have been preserved, historic buildings spared the wrecking ball, and knowledge of the past enhanced by the archaeological works that often precede developments. However, these protections have not been enough to, for example, stop the UK undergoing long-term deterioration in 14 of 42 key biodiversity indicators. These have included declines in the status of UK habitats and species of European importance, and in farmland and woodland birds.732 This chapter begins by considering the current protections framework. It then considers the impact of the Government’s reforms and whether further protections are required.

214.The Government White Paper included a commitment that new homes would have 75–80% lower CO2 emissions by 2025, with these properties being “zero carbon ready” and thus able to become “fully zero carbon homes over time as the electricity grid decarbonises”. This is part of achieving net-zero by 2050.733 This represented a restart in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, after the abandonment of the previous policy (in 2015) of achieving through the Code for Sustainable Homes zero-carbon new homes by 2016. The 2050 target for carbon neutral homes was seen as insufficiently ambitious.734 It appears to be behind what the construction industry could achieve. We were told that Barratt was planning to make their standard homes zero-carbon by 2025 and all their homes by 2030.735 We have begun a new inquiry to examine this subject more thoroughly and will make recommendations to Government.

Current protections

215.The broad consensus of submissions supported the current systems of environmental, heritage, and archaeological protections.736 There was very little support for weakening the existing rules, although there was criticism of specific listing decisions.737 An exception to this were the disagreements over environmental impact assessments (EIAs). The National Grid supported the current legislation and favoured using it as the starting point for a new framework.738 However, Energy UK saw this as an opportunity to reduce costs and delays and reform EIAs. This entailed publishing clear requirements and standards, placing a major focus on environmental management plans, including them at an earlier stage in the EIA process, and making the EIA process more digital.739

216.There were some concerns about enforcement under the current system. Water UK said the current system “provides an imperfect safeguard for the environment and communities.”740 Similar worries were echoed with respect to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).741 The CPRE warned about growing pressures to introduce housing units in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), pointing to an increase of 82% in the housing units approved from 2012 and 2017 and a fivefold increase in the amount of AONB land approved for housing in the same period.742 The National Trust were among those worried that enforcement was ineffectual through being under-resourced, discretionary, politicised, reactive, and lacking strong penalties.743 We were also told that Historic England had fewer planners than its predecessor, English Heritage; that local designations such as Village Design Statements and Parish Plans had been ignored in new Local Plans;744 and there was inadequate funding for bodies such as Local Nature Partnerships.745

Further protections—heritage, science and culture

217.Urban Vision Enterprise declared that “The Planning White Paper mentions heritage in passing, but with little focus.”746 It was similarly noted there had been no question on heritage protection in the consultation.747 Claire Dutch told us:

The White Paper does not deal with heritage in any great respect … We have an adequate framework for protection of historic assets in this country. It works, it does the job and we do not need to tinker with it.748

These comments echoed a widely felt wish for clarity about the impact on historical and environmental protections in ‘growth’, ‘renewal’, and ‘protected’ areas, for example for listed buildings, existing conservation areas, and green spaces.749 The Bartlett School of Planning at UCL argued that:

It is hard to see how well a listed building could be protected in relation to development proposals for immediately adjoining buildings in a ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ area under the government’s proposals.750

Hackney Council, among others, also emphasised the importance of continuing to let local authorities play a crucial role in listing buildings or designating Conservation Areas.751

218.There was some wariness about blanket protections for protected areas, with a wish for local authorities to take a flexible approach,752 allowing for “improvement and enhancement to maximise opportunities.”753 There was a plea for greater consistency,754 and for ensuring historic buildings can be made energy efficient.755

219.However, both the National Trust and Historic England complained that the White Paper took too narrow a perspective of heritage and historic locations, and how existing protections would integrate into the proposed new system.756 The National Trust also highlighted how the planning system provided the only protection for “historic parks, gardens and battlefields”, for unlisted and Grade II listed buildings not on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register, and for undesignated sites.757 Their representative also stressed to us that heritage is not a barrier to development.758 Brian Berry from the Federation of Master Builders contended there needed to be more skilled workers to deal with historic buildings and ensure zero-carbon properties.759

220.To provide greater protections better up-front assessments of the historic environment were advocated. These would help identify sites in growth areas likely to be of archaeological interest. This linked to the need for more data and information about historic and environmental sites,760 as over 90% of heritage assets are undesignated (that is not nationally listed)761 The Heritage Alliance argued this would benefit locations not yet discovered (e.g. archaeological finds) or identified (e.g. buildings not yet listed) or that are part of wider historic landscapes (e.g. monuments and battlefields).762 They proposed putting the Historic Environment Record datasets on a statutory footing, an approach supported by Historic England.763 Historic England recommended “a precautionary approach, and a duty to report finds at on-site stage.”764

221.Alongside improved information there were calls for increased protections, including through primary legislation. These included for World Heritage Sites,765 Jodrell Bank Observatory (to prevent interference with their telescopes),766 existing conservation areas with historic towns, such as Saltaire near Bradford,767 cultural venues that should have a ‘cultural characteristics’ designation in growth and renewal areas,768 and buildings of local interest.769 This linked to permitting local designations of green spaces and heritage sites.770

222.The Minister agreed that heritage was not an obstacle to development.771 Simon Gallagher also argued that “a lot of the heritage considerations are best handled earlier at the plan-making point. If you have made the decision that an area is, in principle, available for development, there are some really challenging things for the heritage bodies to get involved in down there.”772 In January 2021 the Government did announce that they were “doubling the available funding for areas under the “local heritage listing–monuments men” campaign, with up to £1.5 million now available for communities to nominate local heritage sites including historical buildings or modern architecture, art and memorials for inclusion in their council’s local heritage list.”773

223.There is a case for improving our knowledge of where there are possible historical sites and for further protections for specific sites and currently undesignated locations. The Historic Environment Records dataset should be put on a statutory basis. The Government should assess the merits of providing additional protections for other sites, such as those of local interest and World Heritage Sites. We also recommend that the Government publish an assessment of the impact of its proposed changes on historic buildings and sites. This should include the impact on undesignated and future archaeology, and on heritage sites situated in growth areas.

Further protections—flooding

224.There were also calls for greater safeguards against building in areas vulnerable to flooding. Although the Government’s proposals would designate areas at risk of flooding as protected areas, there were worries there was a lack of clarity as to what was deemed flood risk. The evidence we received opined historical data was a poor guide given the greater risks posed by climate change. There were also calls for the policy to be considered in the context of wider flooding policy.774 We also note that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have asked the Government to explain how their reforms to the planning system will produce “better flood resilience outcomes than the current planning system.”775

225.The Government should clarify how it intends to define flood risk in the planning system. This includes clarifying how this will take account of the possible impact of climate change and how it fits within wider flooding policy.

Further protections—nature and wildlife

226.A major feature of responses to our public engagement survey was the importance attached to nature and wildlife. This was the most mentioned subject; with concerns expressed that it was currently insufficiently considered, and that greater protection was needed. This was borne out in our written evidence. There was concern that there was already insufficient protection,776 and that the White Paper had said little beyond advocating tree lined streets.777 There were concerns that the proposals would weaken protection in growth and renewal areas.778 There was uncertainty whether environmental assessments would need to be carried out at the Local Plan stage or later in the process.779

227.There were concerns about a simplified process for environmental impact assessments.780 For example, the Institute of Environmental Management Assessment (IEMA) noted that the White Paper had not specified how their reforms would impact on the strategic environmental assessments (conducted at the Local Plan) and environmental impact assessments (conducted at a project-level), and their relationship to one another. They wanted clear requirements for both to be published. They also proposed considerable use of an environmental management plan for all proposals. These were described as a “single plan against which monitoring can be undertaken to ensure implementation/delivery post-consent compliance and evolve to provide the structure and control mechanisms of further plans.”781

228.The CPRE called for further protections for non-Green Belt countryside around towns,782 and there were also calls for better protections for parks, ancient woodlands and other green spaces in cities.783 The National Trust drew attention to the importance of ‘green infrastructure’ for health and wellbeing in the White Paper, something reinforced in our oral evidence session.784 Our public engagement event echoed the concerns raised in the survey. One participant said: “I think certainly there needs to be a consideration to perhaps more, and more useable, outside space. Manchester city centre has almost no useable parks, for example, whereas London has masses.” (Participant G, Room 2).

229.There were concerns raised about how the planning reforms will overlap with other reforms planned by the Government. The proposed Environment Bill and suggested reforms to environmental impact assessments will directly feed into the treatment of nature and wildlife. The TCPA expressed concerns it was unclear how the White Paper fitted with the Environment Bill or 25-year environment plan.785 This was echoed in our oral evidence session, by Paula Hewitt from ADEPT.786 Attempts to ensure zero-carbon homes connects with wider government efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Similarly, we were told changes in agricultural policy would impact on the planning system.787 Other measures proposed included the assessment of trees to determine their environmental and financial value,788 use of locally conducted landscape character assessments and implementation of Julian Glover’s Landscape Review.789 There were also calls for greater information about the impact on different types of species and habitats.790 The Woodland Trust highlighted their concerns about the incomplete nature of the Ancient Woodland Inventory, the Ancient Tree Inventory, and the lack of consistent records of Tree Preservation Orders.791 There was also support for the retention of sustainability assessments,792 and the establishment of Bioregional Forums that could map areas and feed into Local Plans, including resolving cross-boundary issues,793 and greater cooperation between local authorities.794

230.Similar concerns about the impact on the environment and healthy living was raised at our public engagement event, especially the impact on people in disadvantaged circumstances living in urban areas:

“In most cases, the growth areas are areas closest to public transport, mainly in urban areas. The issue there would be: would these growth areas be appropriately designed to provide open spaces and places where people can experience fresh air and get more healthy living? As we can see from the Covid pandemic, most people were locked up in their flats and couldn’t leave or experience the outdoors like those in the countryside, where the protection zoning might occur. So, we think that zoning—growth, renewal, protection—could further disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged.” (Participant D, Room 3)

231.We asked the Minister about environmental policy. Both the Minister and Simon Gallagher stated there had been close work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who were taking the Environment Bill through Parliament.795 The Minister also wanted to ensure planning incorporated “green roofs, bee bricks, hedgehog highways and all those sorts of things.” This would be in line with the objective of the Environment Bill of ensuring a net gain in biodiversity. He also said that the national model design code would “focus on the hierarchy of green spaces in public spaces”, the importance of tree-lined streets and providing parks in urban areas.796

232.The planning system should pay greater attention to the importance of green spaces and to wildlife near to people’s residences. The Government should reconsider the retention of sustainability assessments and ensure that the operation of Environmental Impact Assessments on the planning system is covered in its further consideration ahead of the Planning Bill.

731 Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044)

732 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Biodiversity Indicators 2020, October 2020, pp 3–7

734 Mr Daniel Scharf (Consultant at PfT Planning) (FPS0002), Rother Association of Local Councils (RALC) (FPS0012), Policy Connect (FPS0014), South Worcestershire Councils (FPS0015), Kent Association of Local Councils (FPS0028), Oxfordshire Neighbourhood Plans Alliance (FPS0052), Centre for Ageing Better (FPS0055), Local Government Association (FPS0056), Ashford KALC (Combined parish, town and community organisations in the borough of Ashford, Kent) (FPS0060), CPRE the countryside charity (FPS0077), District Councils’ Network (FPS0082), Mark Stevenson (FPS0083), MCS Charitable Foundation (FPS0102), Energy UK (FPS0105), Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (FPS0114), CoMOUK (FPS0160), Robert Rush (FPS0163), Qq29–30 (Kate Henderson, Brian Berry), Q74 (Philip Waddy), Q84 (Paula Hewitt)

735 Q30 (Philip Barnes)

736 Daventry District Council (FPS0011), Tamworth Borough Council (FPS0013), South Worcestershire Councils (FPS0015), Urban Vision Enterprise CIC, D2H Land Planning Development (FPS0037), Ashford KALC (Combined parish, town and community organisations in the borough of Ashford, Kent) (FPS0060), Home Builders Federation (FPS0073), London Borough of Hackney (FPS0091), Historic England (FPS0092), Savills (FPS0101), POETS (Planning Oxfordshire’s Environment and Transport Sustainably) (FPS0108), Lifestory Group (FPS0116), Bristol City Council (FPS0119), Emeritus Professor Tony Crook; Hon Professor Vincent Goodstadt; Emeritus Professor Christine Whitehead; Emeritus Professor John Henneberry; Hon Professor Janice Morphet; Professor Cecilia Wong; Professor Malcolm Tait; Hon Professor Kevin Murray; Professor Gavin Parker; Professor Nick Gallent (FPS0131), LSE London (FPS0139), GL Hearn (FPS0141), North Northamptonshire Joint Planning and Delivery Unit (FPS0147), City of London Corporation (FPS0148), Greater London Authority (FPS0149)

737 YIMBY Alliance, London YIMBY, Oxford YIMBY, Brighton YIMBY, PricedOut, Cambridge YIMBY (FPS0017)

738 National Grid (FPS0088)

739 Energy UK (FPS105)

740 Water UK (FPS0140)

741 Roter District Council and Burwash: Save our Fields (FPS0143)

742 CPRE the countryside charity (FPS0077)

743 National Trust (FPS0157). See also St Albans Civic Society (FPS0057), Allyson Spicer (FPS162)

744 NALC (FPS0021)

745 POETS (Planning Oxfordshire’s Environment and Transport Sustainably) (FPS0108)

746 Urban Vision Enterprise CIC, D2H Land Planning Development (FPS0037)

747 Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044)

748 Q102 (Claire Dutch)

749 South Worcestershire Councils (FPS0015), NALC (FPS0021), TCPA (FPS0034), Woodland Trust (FPS045FPS0045), The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066), Wildlife & Countryside Link (FPS0075), CifA, CBA & ALGAO UK (FPS080), District Councils’ Network (FPS0082), London Borough of Hackney (FPS0091), Savills (FPS0101), Royal Town Planning Institute (FPS0113), North Northamptonshire Joint Planning and Delivery Unit (FPS0147)

750 Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (FPS0097)

751 London Borough of Hackney (FPS0091). See also Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044)

752 Abri (FPS0078), Stonewater (FPS0103)

753 Locality (FPS0086)

754 Hill Homes Developments Ltd (FPS084)

755 British Property Federation (FPS0127)

756 Historic England (FPS0092), National Trust (FPS0157)

757 National Trust (FPS0157)

758 Q101 (Ingrid Samuel)

759 Q28 (Brian Berry)

760 Cllr John Crawford (FPS0008), The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066), CifA, CBA & ALGAO UK (FPS0080), National Trust (FPS0157)

761 The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066). See also CifA, CBA & ALGAO UK (FPS0080), Historic England (FPS0092), National Trust (FPS0157)

762 The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066). See also South Worcestershire Councils (FPS0015)

763 The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066), Historic England (FPS0092)

764 Historic England (FPS0092), National Trust (FPS0157)

765 Q101 (Ingrid Samuel)

766 Dr Ken Morris (FPS0001)

767 Tenterden Town Council (FPS0003), World Heritage UK (FPS0046), The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066), Historic England (FPS0092)

768 WMCA (Cultural Leadership Board) (FPS0029)

769 Richard Harwood OBE QC (Joint Head of Chambers at 39 Essex Chambers) (FPS0059)

770 NALC (FPS0021), Mr Richard Gilyead (FPS0022), Neighbourhood Planners London (FPS0032), Richard Harwood OBE QC (Joint Head of Chambers at 39 Essex Chambers) (FPS0059), CifA, CBA & ALGAO UK (FPS0080), Royal Town Planning Institute (FPS0113)

771 Q140 (The Minister)

772 Q145 (Simon Gallagher)

774 Cllr John Crawford (FPS0008), Policy Connect (FPS0014), National Flood Forum (FPS0126), Water UK (FPS0140)

775 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2019–21, Flooding, HC 170 para 73.

776 Tenterden Town Council (FPS0003)

777 Mr Daniel Scharf (Consultant at PfT Planning) (FPS0002), Tenterden Town Council (FPS0003), District Councils’ Network (FPS0082)

778 Wildlife & Countryside Link (FPS0075), Dr Tim Marshall (emeritus professor of planning at Oxford Brookes University) (FPS0079)

779 Locality (FPS0086)

780 Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FPS0081), Aldersgate Group (FPS0120)

781 IEMA - Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (FPS0168)

782 CPRE the countryside charity (FPS0077)

783 Clean Air in London (FPS0087), City of London Corporation (FPS0148), Greater London Authority (FPS0149)

784 National Trust (FPS0157), Q84 (Paula Hewitt)

785 TCPA (FPS0034). See also the Campaign for National Parks (FPS0043), Local Government Association (FPS0056)

786 Qq84–85 (Paula Hewitt), Q96 (Ingrid Samuel)

787 Q96 (Ingrid Samuel)

788 Cllr John Crawford (FPS0008)

789 Cllr John Crawford (FPS0008), Campaign for National Parks (FPS0043); Julian Glover, Landscapes Review, 2018.

790 Cllr John Crawford (FPS0008)

791 Woodland Trust (FPS0045)

792 UK2070 Commission (FPS0128), Emeritus Professor Tony Crook; Hon Professor Vincent Goodstadt; Emeritus Professor Christine Whitehead; Emeritus Professor John Henneberry; Hon Professor Janice Morphet; Professor Cecilia Wong; Professor Malcolm Tait; Hon Professor Kevin Murray; Professor Gavin Parker; Professor Nick Gallent (FPS0131)

793 Mark Stevenson (FPS0083)

794 Q97, Q106 (Ingrid Samuel)

795 Q134 (Simon Gallagher and the Minister), Q157 (The Minister)

796 Q157 (The Minister)

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