IHBC and Vic Soc Directors feature in RICS’ Modus on England’s planning question: ‘… will future policy destroy the past’?

Directors of the IHBC and the Victorian Society (Vic Soc) – Seán O’Reilly and Joe O’Donnell –are among those whose opinions are featured in the RICS in-house publication Modus as it explores heritage impacts in England’s planning proposals: ‘Heritage heresy: will future policy destroy the past?’.

… plans to classify land into three areas….underestimates the sheer volume of historic buildings…

Stephen Cousins writes in Modus:

Will dramatic reforms to England’s planning system jumpstart housebuilding? Or are heritage experts right to worry that the changes will wipe out historic assets and the country’s climate goals?

England suffers from a long-term and persistent undersupply of housing, which has resulted in increasingly expensive homes and a generational divide between those who can afford to own property and those who can’t…

The sweeping changes are described in the Planning for the Future white paper, which ended consultation in October 2020. It comes alongside other new and proposed changes to existing regulations, conceived to make it easier to redevelop buildings and land, and change use without planning permission.

Professionals and organisations in the heritage sector are largely supportive of efforts to streamline planning, but many have expressed concern that the new rules will allow historic buildings to suffer at the hands of unscrupulous developers…

They say plans to classify land into three areas of growth, renewal and protection underestimates the sheer volume of historic buildings in English towns and cities. They worry that many could fall through the cracks. Others have voiced concerns that extending permission in principle could lead to an increase in demolition, with implications for the UK’s net-zero-carbon agenda.

Rather than simplify processes, the reforms may put a heavier burden on conservation officers in councils and heritage organisations already stretched to their limits.

Dr Sean O’Reilly, director of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), the professional body for built and historic environment conservation specialists, argues: ‘The reforms will increase pressure, both in terms of managing the consent process and the statutory planning process. There are very ambitious targets in terms of the speed at which local plans have to be renewed and how often. Organisations are already very understaffed, so if this is going to be a smoother planning process, you’re going to need the skills and knowledge in place to support it.’

… going to need the skills and knowledge in place to support it [the planning process]…

Planning for the Future contains 24 individual proposals spread across three pillars, intended to ‘streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed’.

Details of the specific impact on heritage buildings and how they will be protected, is relatively scant. The government does acknowledge that the current statutory protections, of listed building consent and conservation area status, ‘have worked well’ and it aims to build on those set out in the National Planning Policy Framework….

The government has committed to develop a ‘comprehensive resources and skills strategy’ for the planning sector to support the implementation of its reforms, based on input from local planning authorities, professional bodies and the wider planning sector.

… hint that there will be extra support….

… needs to be much more explicit…. Local councils quite often simply do not have the resources…

‘There is a hint that there will be extra support but again this needs to be much more explicit,’ says O’Donnell. ‘There must be a detailed heritage analysis of places earmarked for development outside the so called ‘protected areas’ before permission in-principle is granted. Local councils quite often simply do not have the resources to do this.’…

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