PPS5 (Planning for the Historic Environment) : Rescue Responds

The Government has this week published PPS5, the policy document that replaces PPGs 15 and 16. This document and its supporting Practice Guide will dictate the way that planning applications affecting heritage sites and features are processed and determined. For the first time, all heritage features – from standing historic buildings, to archaeological features, battlefields, historic landscapes and conservation areas – will be subject to the same set of policy criteria by which to assess the nature of any threat to their significance through planning proposals.

Whilst we welcome the Government’s interest in the Historic Environment and its attempts to address it more holistically, RESCUE remains unconvinced by the arguments in favour of the homogenous unified protection regime as outlined within PPS5. We do not believe that the wide range of “heritage assets” covered by this policy can be adequately protected by generic “one size fits all” policies. The ‘heritage importance’ of these different types of site will vary in each case – in some it has yet to emerge or be fully understood, yet this unified approach effectively denies the essential differences in their nature and therefore surely compromises proper assessment of the specific protection measures they might require.

RESCUE is also disappointed that PPS5 has been released without adequate prior consultation with relevant stakeholders. As with the earlier version, its drafting has taken place under an inexplicable and deliberate veil of secrecy which we cannot support. This lack of consultation is clearly visible in the finished document and the accompanying Practice Guide, which both continue to suffer from a lack of detail and vague terminology in important areas. This will likely cause problems in the future, as the practical implementation of the policies and guidance is attempted.

Now this process has been completed and the document has been released, RESCUE believes that there are more pressing issues that the Government and various heritage bodies should address urgently within the UK heritage sector. These include:

  • the lack of statutory provision for heritage conservation advice services and HER’s, with the resultant constant threat to these services through local authority cost-cutting
  • the ongoing and chronic lack of archaeological archive storage and museum space
  • the fragmentation of the relationships between professional, amateur, contractual and academic sides of the heritage sector, and the ongoing skills drain
  • the lack of satisfactory protection for the vast majority of undesignated archaeological sites and the threat to their survival as a result
  • ensuring proper protection for our underwater maritime heritage

RESCUE believes that there are fundamental problems regarding the structure and administration of the heritage sector that the recent single-minded concentration on one aspect of planning policy guidance has done precisely nothing to address. These deficiencies must now be addressed urgently if the heritage resource itself, and also the profession which cares for it, are not to suffer irreparable damage.

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