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Rounding up reforms

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Changes to the planning and heritage protection systems could have big implications for architectural practices

The so-called 'heritage protection system' is to be reformed to make it more accountable and user-friendly. Today a listing can be unclear on which features are most important and should be retained; that can make long-term planning for a site difficult.

Under the new system a comprehensive pack for owners will be produced, including a site map and a 'summary of importance' highlighting what is notable about the site and why, and identifying particular areas of sensitivity.

If appropriate, the site could be protected under a management agreement, where English Heritage would work in partnership with the owners to establish an advance understanding of important buildings and features, and what could be changed without special consent. By this means, simple repeat requests for maintenance can be covered, thus avoiding the need to apply for listed building consent repeatedly.

At present, homeowners may not know that their building is under consideration for listing until they are informed that it has been. Even then, the decision notice is often not very comprehensive or easy to understand and there is no formal appeal process.

Under the new arrangements, whenever a private home is put forward for designation there will be an opportunity for consultation with the homeowner and a chance for the latter to submit evidence.

Once the building is listed, the owner will be sent a comprehensive 'owners pack', which will state clearly why the building is listed and what are its particularly important features, and a map will be included that will show the extent of the designation. Owners will also receive details of who to contact for further advice and the implications of owning a registered property, with details of how to seek a formal review or appeal. All this suggests a new area of work for architects.

There are also moves afoot to integrate as many of the heritage-control regimes as possible with the basic planning and building control systems. Ministers hope to have completed a major overhaul within three years or so.

A major study by Arup concludes that the most feasible way of unifying some of the regimes is to bring together the 'core' (such as planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consents) with the scheduled monument consent system. The first stage would be to unify the scheduled monument and listed building consents to form a 'heritage consent' regime, then the merging of conservation area consent and planning permission regimes.

Both these steps would need primary legislation.

The second stage would bring these two merged regimes into one 'core' consent regime. At this juncture, Arup considered whether it would make sense to amalgamate building regulations with the planning regime. Sadly, its conclusion was that this would be a unification too far.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen partnership. Visit www. bwcp. co. uk

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