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Act will stop listed buildings becoming dinosaurs, claims EH

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Regulatory Reform Act will cut red tape and focus conservation efforts on listed buildings, heritage chief tells the AJ100 Breakfast Club

English Heritage (EH) has claimed that new red tape-busting legislation will stop listed and protected buildings from becoming ‘fossilised dinosaurs’.

Speaking at the AJ100 Breakfast Club last week EH chief executive Simon Thurley told architects the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 represented a ‘fundamental shift away from protecting the fabric [of a building] to regulation by architectural significance’.

Drawn up by EH and other heritage bodies in consultation with the Government, the Act contains six ground-breaking changes to existing conservation legislation, including the scrapping of conservation area consent and a more targeted and streamlined approach for those working with listed buildings.

The changes, parts of which come into effect in October this year, with the rest to follow by April 2014, breathe life into measures first drawn up in the abandoned 2008 Heritage Act and follow on from recommendations made in last summer’s Penfold Review of non-planning consents.

Festus Moffat, a director at John Robertson Architects who is currently working on the Grade I-listed Bush House in central London, welcomed the changes. He said: ‘Up until now, if you were working on a Grade I-listed building, that was it – Stamp! It’s all Grade I-listed. Now the onus is on having a dialogue with conservation officers and deciding what is significant. It is real progress, a step forward to allow us as architects to carry out refurbishments and redevelopments giving a sustainable life to listed buildings.’

Heather Jermy, an associate with Purcell Architects and head of the practice’s Heritage Consultancy arm, was also enthusiastic about the new act. He said: ‘Before, it was all about the facade, with no clear idea about what was going on inside.

‘Now it is almost like a comfort blanket for people who work with listed buildings; it will help them understand how to deal with them. It’s about getting clarity and simplifying things, and that is a progressive move.’

Addressing directors and partners of AJ100 practices, Thurley said the new Act would herald an era when historic buildings became part of modern society. He said: ‘What we are trying to do is make our system much more flexible, with the end result that our historic buildings are much better places to live in, more beautiful and that serve us in the 21st century. They should not become fossilised dinosaurs.’

Sarah Buckingham, head of Heritage Protection Reform at EH, said: ‘We are still protecting the special interest of buildings but this Act means much less time will be spent looking at the minor and inconsequential stuff.’

Summary: changes effected by the regulatory reform act

  1. Conservation area consent replaced with planning permission
  2. Creation of non-statutory heritage partnership agreements between local authorities and owners setting out works for which listed building consent is granted (excluding demolition)
  3. Non-significant buildings and structures and those within the curtilage of the principal listed building excluded from protection
  4. A system of local and national class consents under which certain works will not need listed building consent
  5. A certificate of immunity from listing can be applied for at any time
  6. A certificate of lawful proposed works (valid for 10 years), to confirm that the works described don’t affect the character of the listed building and do not require consent.
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