On 11th May, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was laid before Parliament, and it received its second reading on 8th June. The Bill includes a chapter dedicated to heritage (Chapter 3) which has several key points – some more likely to affect our area of planning practice than others.
Below are some of the main points of note:
New Heritage Assets Protected by Statute
The Bill will introduce a new Section 58(b) within the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 via clause 92. This new provision requires special regard to be given to the desirability of ‘preserving or enhancing’ Scheduled Monuments, Registered Parks and Gardens, World Heritage Sites and Registered Shipwrecks.
Essentially, these assets will be afforded the same level of statutory protection as listed buildings and conservation areas for the first time.
Introduction of “Enhancement” to the Listed Building Provisions
Notably, the provision includes “preserving or enhancing any feature, quality or characteristic of the asset or setting that contributes to the significance of the asset.”
While practitioners are used to applying judgement as to what contributes to the significance of a heritage asset, the concept of a “quality” is a new introduction. How far the definition of a “quality” might extend, i.e. whether it will focus on the tangible aesthetic aspects of an asset or include more intangible associations, only time will tell.
Separately, but in the same vein, decision-makers will need to pay special regard to the desirability of “preserving or enhancing” their special interest, rather than simply “preserving” as currently set out in sections 16 and 66 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
One interpretation might be that by including “enhance”, Parliament is reinforcing the weight to be afforded to beneficial works to listed buildings as the corollary to the weight to be afforded to harm. This point might seem obvious because it forms part of most planning balance exercises, but sometimes it’s important to state the obvious.
There would be no amendment to Section 72 of the 1990 Act regarding the protection of Conservation Areas, and so their settings would, in lawful terms, remain occluded from protection.
Temporary Stop Notices
The Bill would also see the introduction of Temporary Stop Notices (TSNs), which would afford Local Planning Authorities or the Secretary of State the power to issue temporary notices to stop works which affect the special interest of the subject building, i.e. if works are in contravening of Section 9 of the 1990 Act.
Introduction of Design Codes
There would be an amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act via Clause 87(7), which will require Local Planning Authorities to create design codes in line with paragraph 128 of the National Planning Policy Framework. This is currently recommended but not compulsory.
While these changes superficially appear to change the focus on decision making from a local to a national level, they also ensure decisions on design are judged at a local level through the implementation of design codes and Local Plans, the latter expanded to include SPDs and policy maps.
National Development Plan Policies
The Bill would introduce National Development Management Policies. These are to be drawn up, derived from and in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, and when adopted, the ‘NDMPs’ will have equal status to the development plan under the current system.
The NDMPs are designed to remove many of the repetitive policies found in Local Plans so that the latter becomes more streamlined. Heritage policies are the type that is often repeated, quoting the relevant statutory provisions and NPPF policies, and could well find themselves in the NDMPs.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is now with the Public Bill Committee. The Committee will consider all submitted written evidence ahead of the deadline on 20th September 2022, at which point it will report to the House of Commons. We will continue to monitor the Bill’s journey closely and will provide an update once the findings have been announced.