Teething problems plague new approach to historic buildings
David Hornsby reveals why he believes new listed building guidelines are being lost in translation.
ANYONE who has recently sought consent to alter a listed building may have noticed that their local authority planning department has adopted a new approach.
Property owners will have been asked to provide further information before the application is validated and it is all down to a new set of guidelines.
In March, English Heritage published Planning Policy Statement 5, Planning for the Historic Environment and it is this document that is causing some confusion and difficulty.
The whole purpose of the PPS5 is to ensure that the historic environment and its heritage assets (including listed buildings) should be conserved and enjoyed for the quality of life they bring to this and future generations.
To achieve this, PPS5 states that objectives are to: 1. Deliver sustainable development by ensuring that policies and decisions concerning the historic environment:
recognise heritage assets are a non-renewable resource.
take into account wider social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits. of heritage conservation.
recognise that intelligently managed change may sometimes be necessary if heritage assets are to be maintained for the long term. 2. To conserve England’s heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance by ensuring that:
decisions are based on the nature, extent and level of significance, investigated to a degree proportionate to the importance of the heritage asset.
wherever possible, heritage assets are put to an appropriate and viable use that is consistent with their conservation.
the positive contribution of such heritage assets to local; character and sense of place is recognised and valued.
consideration of the historic environment is integrated into planning policies promoting place shaping. 3. To contribute to our knowledge and understanding of our past by ensuring that opportunities are taken to capture evidence from the historic environment and to make this publicly available where a heritage asset is to be lost.
However, some of those caught up in the new process will be forgiven for thinking the Planning Policy Statement has introduced a new layer of red tape, bureaucracy and increased levels of negativity into the planning process.
Based on my involvement acting for clients throughout the country, many are down to interpretation.
Local authorities throughout the country are displaying different levels of understanding of the PPS5.
Having studied myself at great length, it is clear that English Heritage did not intend the new process to be as negative as is currently being interpreted by some authorities.
The guidelines say it is now necessary to understand the “significance” of a building in order to make informed decisions about how future changes and development affect this.
The term “significance” is central to the policy statement. In the guidance notes, “significance” is defined as “a catch-all term to sum up the qualities that make an otherwise ordinary place a heritage asset”.
In short, it is the sum of its architectural, historic, artistic or archaeological interest.
Where problems are occurring, it is clear that local planning authorities misunderstand “significance” and rather than looking at the elements that make the property stand out from the ordinary, they appear to be listing all the features they can see.
If every single feature, brick and stone within a building is considered to be significant, the implication is that no change can be undertaken without causing harm.
For example, in farm building conversion schemes internal walls built in the 20th century as animal pens and windows installed later that are out of character with the building and setting have both been considered by planning officers to be “significant” and cannot be touched.
In some cases clients have been directed to amend plans with the result that the quality of the amended scheme is poor and detracts from the significance of the building within its setting.
In these circumstances clients are quite rightly critical of the new process as it quite naturally appears to be having the opposite affect than the one intended.
In many instances, and especially with farm buildings, local planning authorities are directly contradicting other policy guidelines issued by English Heritage.
Generally, the Planning Policy Statement contains some very good points and if interpreted in a proper and reasonable manner should achieve the objectives as intended.
At the moment I would like to think that we have teething problems and much of the blame must be firmly with the agencies that introduced the policy statement.
They have not allowed sufficient time for the local planning authorities to come to terms with what are major substantial changes to the system.
A further criticism that I have is that private owners of listed buildings were not notified or informed about the changes and the reasons for implementing those changes.
Lessons do need to be learned about the manner that the new process has been introduced, and, importantly, there may well be members of the public who are private owners of listed buildings who have been disadvantaged by decisions made by local planning authorities based upon misunderstandings associated with the interpretation of PPS5.
Local authorities need further urgent direction so that they can look at the wider implications and heritage benefits that a scheme can bring rather than being bogged down with irrelevant trivia that has resulted in a negative response to schemes that should really have been supported.
The new process increases the burden of owners and applicants to provide additional information about the significance of a building and show that the proposals are generally not harmful to the significance of the building within its setting.
So listed building owners be aware. A good level of design and an understanding of the significance of a building and its setting are important consideration before submitting applications to the local authority.
David Hornsby is a Doncaster-based chartered surveyor, who specialises in listed buildings and works nationwide. Tel: 01302 371723, www.surveysbydavidhornsby. co.uk/
HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT: The Mansion House in York is Grade One listed.