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New bill 'may weaken conservation'

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The protection of England’s listed buildings and conservation areas could be jeopardised by Government plans to hand over more power to local planning officials, conservationists have warned.

The Localism Bill, which was published last month and had its second reading in Parliament on Monday (17 Janaury), is designed to devolve power from central government to local authorities and communities.

However the Institute of Historic Building and Conservation (IHBC) fears the move could threaten many historic buildings.

The IHBC said it was concerned that proposed neighbourhood development orders could result in weaker conservation procedures, with unscrupulous developers using the new legislation to get around regulations which protect listed buildings.

IHBC chairwoman Jo Evans said: ‘The Bill includes precise specifications for new local management procedures to override national cultural interests supported by listing and conservation area designations.

‘The Government has already agreed to protect the natural environment under its new planning framework, and it’s unthinkable not to make the same commitment to our historic places - not least for the social, cultural and economic resources that they represent for the people living there.’

IHBC director Seán O’Reilly added: ‘The Bill, as currently proposed, includes a new local management tool, the neighbourhood development order, that could negate listed building and conservation area procedures that help care for a substantial national resource.

‘This is not how we should care look after our valuable and unique historic places, which are already severely threatened by the devastating reductions in local conservation officers recently documented by the sector.’

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