Geoff Sheppard March 2012

Much publicity has been given in the national press in recent months to the Government’s intention to “reform the planning system in England to make it less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable development.” A Draft National Planning Policy Framework was published in July 2011, with the consultation period closing on 17th October.

With the presumption being “designed to help turn the planning system round – from one focussed on barriers to one that prioritises opportunities”, opponents of the proposals have suggested that they are a developer’s charter and that the countryside will be concreted over. Interestingly, The Draft contains a section which should be of much interest to us, and which I quote in full:-

“Historic environment
The framework reaffirms protections for the historic environment and heritage. Development causing substantial harm or loss to an important heritage asset remains prohibited, unless in wholly exceptional circumstances. Similar protections should be given to unofficial sites of archaeological interest if it can be demonstrated they are of substantial significance. Local councils are encouraged to set out how they will protect and improve heritage most at risk through neglect or decay, for the enjoyment for communities now and in the future. They should have up to date evidence about the historic environment in their areas and use it to assess the significance of heritage assets and contribution they make to the environment.”

We have become aware in recent years of instances where developments have been permitted in circumstances which would seem to contravene the above advice. I am discussing with our representatives on local government bodies how we could strengthen our input in such situations, but it is often difficult for them to gain sufficient background information on a particular building in the time available to them. I would ask all members to be vigilant when a development is proposed and to alert us if they feel that something significant is likely to be adversely affected.