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Legal ruling boosts historic building protection

A landmark legal case has given ‘greater protection’ to buildings which could be defined as local heritage assets but are threatened with demolition

Following a successful legal challenge by SAVE Britain’s Heritage against the secretary of state for communities and local government, planning law related to the demolition of buildings and structures could afford greater protection to historic buildings.

The judgment brings all demolitions into the scope of a European directive – the environmental impact assessment directive (EIA) – which governs the environmental effects of building projects.

The secretary of state previously maintained that demolition fell outside this directive as it did not constitute a ‘project’. However any proposed demolition which is thought to have ‘significant effects’ on the environment, including local heritage assets, will now be subject to the EIA process.

The court of appeal also ruled unlawful a policy, known as the ‘demolition direction’, which exempts demolition from planning control.

William Palin, SAVE secretary explained: ‘This is a crucial judgement which will have far reaching effects on the way that local councils deal with demolitions of all types of building.’

The campaign group predicts the ruling could scupper demolition projects planned under the government’s Housing Market Renewal (Pathfinder) Initiative.

Marcus Binney, SAVE president added: ‘For 35 years SAVE has challenged the waste involved in the demolition, year on year, of tens of thousands of soundly built houses which could often be renovated for a fraction of the cost of compulsory purchase, demolition and rebuilding.

‘The appeal court judgment is of vast significance as it will help to put a brake on the cruel practice of evicting residents and flattening houses before any decision has been made about the future of the site’. 

However Roger Mascall, director and head of heritage at Turley Associates described the verdict as ‘not good news.’

He said: ‘Local heritage assets are increasingly causing concern for developers as they become a material consideration in the planning process and subject to national planning policy protection. Further protection appears to be creeping in unchecked, and this is not good news.

He added: ‘The case is complex and has the potential to afford local heritage assets greater protection. The situation is made that more difficult as a developer may not know that the building he owns is a local heritage asset.  Some local authorities are very good at maintaining a register of such assets, whilst others hold no register at all.

‘It is also often the case that a local heritage asset is only identified as such once a planning application has been submitted, and this is clearly unsatisfactory.’

The case related to a decision by Lancaster City Council to authorise the demolition of the Mitchell’s Brewery building, located in the ‘Canal Corridor’ area of the city.

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