On the 23rd October 2019, the government announced new measures to be undertaken as part of what the Communities, Housing and Local Government Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick MP, called the “most ambitious heritage preservation campaign for 40 years”. He said that with the historic environment singled out as a “key function of the planning system” the government is taking action to encourage greater listings and has provided additional funding (£700k) to kick-start an initiative whereby local people will be “empowered to nominate heritage assets which are important to them” to add to a new or augmented local lists drawn up by local authorities. He said Historic England will also be launching a national campaign on local identity in the spring of 2020, in support. The full announcement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government can be found at Communities Secretary launches ‘most ambitious heritage preservation campaign for 40 years’
With reference to this latest announcement, as a minimum the Government should be coupling the proposed increase in local listing with changes to planning, to prevent the demolition of historic buildings without planning permission. We would strongly recommend that a new Demolition Consent should be brought into force on the back of these measures and that it be required, for any building or structure on a local list, to ensure that proper protection and loss-prevention measures should be available for heritage assets: in other words – give local listing some genuine protective meaning and some real teeth in the planning process. We would also recommend that the definition of demolition be tightened and clarified, to prevent substantial removal of material under the guise of “alterations”. Local lists must also be substantially expanded, to include the full range of heritage assets as well: for example, archaeological sites, historic landscapes, heritage and veteran trees, fossilised street layouts and plot boundaries, all of which play the same role as buildings in defining what might be of value in an area, or what might make it locally or regionally distinctive. It’s time that the single-minded focus on buildings alone as defining our heritage values was challenged and addressed.
There is an opportunity here for us as a heritage profession, since we should look to work with the forthcoming local identity campaign and to make sure the full range of heritage assets and historic environment features are submitted for consideration and included on any local lists. However, without the appropriate national funding it’s difficult to see where the impetus for local authorities to engage with this initiative will come from, and whether it will be implemented in all areas or on a sufficient scale for us to do so. If the Government were truly “ambitious” – or indeed serious – about heritage protection, it would commit sufficient financial resources, outline and define effective new legislation, and develop a more rounded and holistic consideration of our historic environment to back it up. The fact that it has not achieved any of these things suggests that this latest announcement is designed for the press and the public, rather than the professional, the planner or the developer.