The CLA last week welcomed the Government’s new planning policy statement (PPS) for heritage, going against the tide of criticism that beset the document as the period of public consultation came to an end. It hailed the new PPS, and its guidance notes, which have been drafted together with English Heritage, as ‘potentially a major step forward, which can greatly improve heritage protection by making it easier to make arguments for the sympathetic changes that are needed to keep heritage economically viable and relevant to the future.’ The CLA’s members manage or own at least a quarter of all listed buildings.
‘What this means,’ explains Jonathan Thompson, Heritage Advisor at the CLA, is that instead of the “this is heritage, you can’t change it” mantra, it should be possible to ask what is significant. So a 1950s tiled fireplace could be removedif you could show that it doesn’t contribute positively to the building’s significance.’
In short, owners of listed buildings could be offered hope that wrangling with local planning authorities might be alleviated by guidance that takes into account the real effects of any change and requires proportionality in what is needed to justify that change so that you don’t need to provide a £5,000 full archaological survey if you just want to move a chimneypot. ‘But,’ he adds, ‘the key word at the moment is “potentially”.’
At present, 30% of all planning applications have a heritage component. PPS15, which will replace PPG15 (Planning and the Historic Environment) and PPG16 (Archaeology and Planning), was released for public comment in July. The CLA statement was issued in response to a damning article in The Daily Telegraph last month, which reported that the draft proposal had been branded as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and ‘unfit for purpose’ by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). On its website, the RTPI voiced concerns that the new planning rules favour development over heritage.
‘The major flaw of the proposed PPS is that it sees heritage as a constraint to development rather than recognising the positive role that heritage can play in creating jobs, growing the economy, and making better places.’
Heritage organisations such as the Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies which includes, among others, the Georgian Group, SPAB, and the Council for British Archaeology have expressed some concerns, including the serious lack of resources that would be needed to implement the proposal, and that, as a body, it was ‘not convinced that the current drafts fulfill guarantees of “no lessening of protection”‘.
A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: ‘We have not downgraded the level of protection for listed buildings and other heritage assets. Ministers have made clear we need to protect our historic environment while making the most of its potential through the planning system.’
More than 500 responses to the public consultation were received. John Healey, the planning minister, said the Government would ‘redraft’ new rules on historic buildings following the outcry over the original version, although no firm date has yet been set for PPS15’s implementation.