Industry experts fear that a proposed new planning policy for the historic environment leaves too much open for interpretation
Drawn up by the Department of Communities Media and Sport together with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the revised PPS 15 would bring in a ‘new, integrated approach to the historic environment and heritage assets’ that ‘moved beyond the outdated distinction between buildings and archaeology’.
The draft also widens existing policies to cover ‘assets that are not currently designated or are not capable of designation under current heritage protection legislation, but which have a level of interest which should be conserved and, where appropriate, enhanced.’
However critics are concerned that such a broad scope of coverage could give too much discretionary power to planning authorities.
‘It’s hard to disagree with any of the propositions but the trouble is they leave a lot open to interpretation,’ said design and planning consultant Peter Stewart.
He added: ‘The existing policy is quite good but the problem was how it was interpreted, moving to a policy that is less clearly framed could make things worse.’
Classicist architect Robert Adams agreed: ‘A lack of precision in a regulation always gives more discretionary power to the regulator.’
‘It is a fundamental bureaucratic principle that all those that are in power will always seek to extend their power,’ said Adams. ‘But this is about people’s property for god’s sake.’
Meanwhile Nigel Hewitson former English Heritage legal director and head of planning at legal practice Norton Rose branded the changes ‘stealth conservation’ and ‘unlikely to be beneficial to developers’. Read his full critique of the proposed policy in thisweek’s AJ (13.08.09).
Effectively a replacement for the existing Planning Policy Guidance 15 (Planning and the Historic Environment) and PPG 16 (Planning and Archaeology), the proposed PPS 15 is now in draft consultation, having survived the scrapping of the government’s Heritage Protection Reform Bill in July.
Robert Bargery of the Georgian Group said the PPS 15’s propositions would ‘compensate a lot for the loss of Heritage Protection Reform Bill in the legislative programme’.
Meanwhile Jane Kennedy, a partner at Purcell Miller Tritton and an English Heritage Commissioner said: ‘Conservation areas have afforded protection to undesignated buildings for a long time, we’re long used to working with that.’
She added: ‘What local authorities [will be] allowed to do is make a proportionate response.’
Stakeholders and interested parties wishing to respond to the draft consultation can email PPSHistoric-Environment@communities.gsi.gov.uk or contact Phil Weatherby on 020 7944 3888.