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Localism Bill must not weaken protection for our 'irreplaceable heritage'

As the Localism Bill continues through parliament this week, the Heritage Alliance’s Henry Russell urges the government not to sideline historic built environment issues for potentially dangerous business-led growth

The Localism Bill, which is currently at committee stage, has the capacity to make major changes to the planning framework in England. While The Heritage Alliance supports the fundamental principle of the Bill in empowering local communities, its members are concerned with making sure that protection for our irreplaceable heritage is not diminished under the new localism powers.

The Alliance and colleagues across the heritage sector have been busily briefing on the Bill throughout its Parliamentary passage, and have so far welcomed Amendments 173 (providing protection for Listed Buildings, their settings, and Conservation Areas), 163 (permitting neighbourhood development forums to cross local authority boundaries) and 161 (encouraging diversity in the make-up of neighbourhood forums). But there are still some areas of the Bill over which the Alliance has concerns for heritage protection.

After all, if it is damaged or lost, it is lost for ever

The Bill proposes that ‘finance considerations’ can be a material consideration in determining consents. This is particularly worrying against a backdrop of local authority funding cuts, potentially increasing the temptation to maximise receipts from the community infrastructure levy and the New Homes Bonus through planning consents.

Finance and resourcing is also an issue for neighbourhood forums. While the pilot projects are being funded by DCLG, Government has not said how neighbourhood development plans and orders will be funded in the long term. If business fills the vacuum, many heritage bodies are concerned that vested financial interests may swing the balance against the indigenous community. Business interests will be important – particularly on commercial and industrial regeneration projects – but localism is all about communities and people, so a balance must be achieved.

We would also like to see heritage recognised in the Bill as the finite cultural resource that it is.  After all, if it is damaged or lost, it is lost for ever.

Henry Russell is Parliamentary Liaison Office for the The Heritage Alliance – the umbrella body for 91 national and major regional heritage NGOs and the largest coalition of heritage interests in England


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