Aside from the changes to the powers relating to the serving of temporary Stop Notices – which is a subject of a later article – the heritage provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA) focus on tweaks and some tidying up of the heritage protection system, rather than a fundamental shift. Nevertheless, there are some changes in the emphasis of the legislation that are worth noting.
First, the Act now requires that the Secretary of State must “have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing” Registered Parks and Gardens, World Heritage Sites and Scheduled Monuments. This is the first time that all designated heritage assets have been afforded this protection in statute, including consideration of their setting. (There is the same protection of designated shipwrecks – albeit this is rarely an issue in the property industry!)
Previously, listed buildings and conservation areas were slightly elevated above other designated heritage assets because only they benefited from this “special regard”. In practice, though, the concept of “special regard” has been embedded in the NPPF since 2012, given that the conservation of designated heritage assets should be given “great weight” in planning decisions. So, LURA will not make any real change to how these designated heritage assets will be considered when making planning decisions.
Second, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 stipulated the desirability to “preserve” the significance of listed buildings. LURA now introduces the desirability to “preserve or enhance” to listed buildings in law, when previously, this only applied to conservation areas. Again, this policy is already contained within the NPPF, which emphasises the “the desirability of sustaining and enhancing” the significance of heritage assets, but the inclusion of it in the statute is a helpful alignment.
Third, it is also notable that LURA further embeds the concept of significance in decision-making on the historic environment. Historically, the language has varied depending on the legislation, so listed buildings are assessed on the basis of their “historic and architectural interest”, conservation areas on their “character and appearance”, scheduled monuments on their “national importance”, Registered Parks on their “special historic interest” and World Heritage Sites on their “outstanding universal value”. LURA has clarified that all these definitions come under the umbrella term of “significance”, which is a concept already used in the NPPF and Historic England guidance.
The one notable omission from this housekeeping exercise is that there is still no statutory protection of the setting of conservation areas, and it is not clear why this was not included. The setting of conservation areas continues to be protected via provisions set out in the NPPF, and is also often afforded protection through local development plans. The omission is, therefore, not likely to affect planning decisions.
The idea of unifying the heritage protection system has been around for some time – back in 2007, Heritage Protection Reform proposed a single, unified system for heritage designation and consent, but the idea was dropped.
LURA does not unify the designation or consent regimes – there are still separate systems and consents required for, respectively, changes to listed buildings (via listed building consent), scheduled monuments (via scheduled monument consent), and development affecting conservation areas, Registered Parks and World Heritage Sites (via planning permission). However, the Act does now clarify that different types of designated heritage assets are on an equal footing on a statutory/ legal basis, which is a helpful, if minor adjustment within this wide range of adjustments and recalibrations.