Conference Report: The Future of Heritage Protection - London, 17 June 2010

The purpose of the event was to:
  • give information and guidance to HTF Members upon the implications of PPS5 -how will it change the way in which applications affecting the historic environment are determined and how to use it to best effect.
  • Explore the new political landscape – how is the planning system likely to change and what are the implications for those working in the historic environment.

View the speakers' presentations

Chris Winter, Director of HTF, welcomed delegates and thanked the Forum’s Partner, Bircham Dyson Bell for hosting the conference and introduced Steve Tilbury, a member of the HTF Executive Committee and Corporate Director (Operations) at Winchester City Council, who briefly outlined recent policy statements from Government.  He considered that, although there had been no supporting legislation, it did provide a framework for development management and began to explore the tensions between climate change and heritage protection.  However the current financial climate has brought additional pressures and changes to the planning system will compound further the challenges to practitioners in the heritage sector. 

 

Mark Challis, a Partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, expressed his disappointment that Bob Neill MP had been unable to attend as there were many points upon which he may have been able to provide further details as to how the planning system will evolve under the Coalition Government.  Mark outlined the new political context and explored the significant changes which would impact on planning in historic towns.  He referred to the letter of 27 May from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, setting out the “intention to rapidly abolish Regional Strategies”.  The thrust of the new coalition Government, he pointed out, was towards localism and decentralisation, with the expectation that all regional governance mechanisms would also be abolished.

Other significant changes he highlighted were:

  • the future planning structure which would consist of the National Framework for Development; Infrastructure Plans at County level and perhaps a return to old style local plans at the local level.
  • The National Planning Framework would have economic, environmental and social priorities; infrastructure national policy statements under the Planning Act 2008 would be incorporated; this would need the approval of both Houses of Parliament; PPGs and PPSs would be reviewed – including PPS5.
  • Development Control: flexible zoning would allow changes of use without planning permission as prescribed in the development plan; there would be a presumption in favour of sustainable development, housing building incentives and ‘Neighbourhood Approval’, which could include a third party appeal to test conformity with the local plan.    
  • The appeals process would include new third party rights of appeal – but on limited grounds only.
  • ‘Garden Grabbing’ had been addressed in the recent PPS3 (June 2010).
  •  On Heritage there is (almost) nothing.

Mark turned to PPS5 and Heritage Reform, disappointed that there were no signs that the Bill might be revived.  He went through the main points of PPS5, commenting that as issued it was a major improvement on the July 2009 draft and had been generally well received.

  • The Statement was short and needed to be read alongside the associated (guidance) documents for a full understanding
  • It was not as ‘categorical’ as previous documents and placed more emphasis on significance – pulling all ‘assets’ together for consideration and protection
  • The level of protection it will offer has yet to be tested
  • The call for more pre-application discussion / work was very welcome, but this should be ‘proportionate’ - and assumes that time and resources will be available to achieve this
  • Protection of undesignated assets is included; this may cause uncertainty especially for developers
  • There is a new ‘single spectrum’ approach to assets, with a presumption in favour of conservation, and certain preservation tests remain. (s66 P(LBCA) A 1990 & s72 P(LBCA) A 1990)
  • There was a presumption to refuse an application that would cause substantial harm or total loss unless there was ‘significant public benefits’ which outweigh that harm or loss
  • Justification for the removal of redundant buildings was required – subject to the market testing process
  • ‘Setting’ was also addressed in the context of balancing loss/harm with public benefit – the greater the harm the greater the justification required
  • Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites were dealt with as part of the spectrum approach as were other kinds of assets including parks, gardens, battlefields and scheduled monuments.

LPAs would be required to make judgements on all of these issues and this needed an in depth understanding of the Statement and all of its implications, as well as a commitment to appropriate pre-application work with stakeholders.

Mark concluded that there is a level of uncertainty surrounding the new PPS, it having only just been published, which will no doubt be tested through practice over the coming months.

Stephen Bond was keen to explore how ‘significance’ could be used as a tool to manage the historic environment, which he considered to be in need of improvement. Underlying PPS5, he continued, is a raft of assumptions and expectations. The seismic shift in heritage management in recent years has had three threads:

  • The expanded notion of what conservation and heritage is about;
  • The move away from heritage as ‘jewels in a sea of mediocrity’ to a wider context – there is little that is not part of the historic environment;
  • The approach to management of heritage assets.

English Heritage’s Conservation Principles were applied not only to iconic buildings but also to streets. The “aesthetic, communal, historic and evidential value” of places and spaces is widely accepted.

The notions underlying PPS5 require that managers have an understanding of this approach to conservation, and the contribution heritage makes to social, economic and cultural life. Stephen suspected that there could be a large group of people who influence the historic environment but who will not understand this approach. Complex ownership and mixed portfolios will add complexity to management strategies. 

He advocated “intelligent management” which would require managers to be very familiar with PPS5 in order to maximise its usefulness. It would also need sound evaluation processes, documentation and record keeping; proficient training and cascade of information; a sustainable approach to resources and openness to wider public involvement. It would also be helped by a dialogue between owners and managers, he concluded.

Nick Worlledge, HAS Team Leader atOxford City Council, was able to relate the discussion to the practical management of Oxford’s heritage assets.  He explained the context, including the ownership regime.  Many of the 1580 listed buildings are owned by either the City Council or the University, and these, together with conservation areas covering 18% of the city area, 11 scheduled monuments and 11 registered historic parks and gardens make a significant impact on planning and management in the City.

The justification for management of historic assets is well illustrated by the virtuous circle: 

 EH virtuous circle
English Heritage viruous circle

The City Council already uses assessment of significance and impact as part of the management process, employing a collaborative approach (pre-application) and looking for income generation and innovative ideas.

Nick explained some of the projects in place to support this approach, which include the creation of a Conservation Area ‘Toolkit’, which he described in some detail. The main purpose of this approach was to:

  • Facilitate understanding
  • Promote effective management of the historic environment
  • Provide an informed analysis
  • Build knowledge and capacity for involvement

It includes:

  • A checklist of key elements
  • Examine how the individual elements work together
  • Identify pressures for change, vulnerabilities and potential enhancement opportunities.
  • Identify how it is valued and by whom.
By using tools such as this, with the support of Elected Members and the public, localism can be made to work, although different strategies may be needed in a range of circumstances. A number of methodologies can be used to achieve a Heritage Plan as an over arching strategy.

Common ownership is a vital element if a strategy is to succeed, he added, and to achieve this the key elements of complex issues need to be teased out in order to arrive at informed decision making.

This way of working can also identify the ‘importance of the ordinary’ which might otherwise be overlooked. He concluded that the journey through this process is as important as arrival – reaching a better sense of common purpose – and “pride in our City”.

 

David Tomback, of English Heritage, looked at the new regime from the point of view of ‘enabling development’ suggesting that, as during other times of financial constraint, there will be more of this, with developers asking for more in order to make the figures work!

He gave several illustrations of buildings which had been subject to this in the past and went on to outline how PPS5 deals with this. HE11.1 states:

“Local planning authorities should assess whether the benefits of an application for enabling development to secure the future conservation of a heritage asset outweigh the disbenefits of departing from the development plan ... or from national policies, taking into account whether: 

  • it will materially harm the significance of the heritage asset or its setting
  • it will avoid detrimental fragmentation of management of the heritage asset
  • it will secure the long term future of the heritage asset and, where applicable, its continued use for a purpose sympathetic to its conservation
  • it is necessary to resolve problems arising from the inherent needs of the heritage asset, rather than the circumstances of the present owner, or the purchase price paid
  • there is a source of funding that might support the heritage asset without the need for enabling development
  • the level of development is the minimum necessary to secure the future conservation of the heritage asset and of a design and type that minimises harm to other public interests.”

Note 16 adds the caveat: “these criteria are listed as a starting point, what is a material consideration will always depend on the circumstances of the individual case and this list is not comprehensive.”

Also HE11 – 125 states that:

“Enabling development is the means of securing the long term future of a heritage asset when conservation through development in compliance with policy cannot do so. Detailed guidance on how the applicant might make an enabling development application and on how a planning authority can ensure the policy requirements are fully tested is set out in English Heritage’s guidance on enabling development.”

David gave further case studies to illustrate the issues and went on to talk about ‘securing the benefit’ which he said must be watertight but was beset with a range of possible problems.

In conclusion he considered that enabling development is a valid but inefficient means of securing the future of heritage assets, and it is essential to take into account whether there will be material harm to the significance or to the setting. However it can be a way to avoid fragmentation of management and may secure the long term future of the asset.  There should be minimum intervention and benefits should outweigh disbenefits. These are judgements which have to be made, and there will be test cases.

Speakers were then able to answer questions from delegates. These focused on:

  • How to manage consultation: early engagement is advised; resourcing is a problem as public expectations rise; understanding the community and how / who should carry out the consultation.
  • The change in Government policy on housing, and what this will mean to applications in the pipe line: is this an opportunity to revisit the issue locally?
  •  The confusion of terms - conservation / preservation / significance:  the heart of the new document is the need for judgements to be made, taking account of values and assessing impact.

    Steve closed the event and thanked the speakers and Bircham Dyson Bell for their hospitality.