Archaeologists and others involved with protecting and improving the environment, both historic and natural, remain concerned about key aspects of the proposals to change the planning system. We note in the background document to the Queen’s Speech – published here (pages 61-2) that there is a continuing emphasis on the need for speed, “a simpler, faster and more modern planning system”. An element of the bill is described as: “Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments” which sounds like bad news for environmental protection.
RESCUE responded to the White Paper proposals on this last year – see here on our webpages – and sees no evidence that our causes for concern have been addressed. Importantly, if areas are to be allocated to development zones that include an automatic permission at local plan stage, then there must be a funded process for properly identifying and assessing the archaeology at this early stage. Otherwise highly important but unknown sites could be missed, and the unexpected could cause delays and extra costs on a development if discovered at a late stage.
RESCUE welcomed proposals to invest in improved digital access to planning – the historic environment would benefit from a comprehensive digitisation programme covering the range of available evidence. We welcomed some proposals to ‘build beautiful’ which seem not to figure so strongly in the Queen’s Speech briefing – and we suggested that the zero-rating of VAT on historic building repairs is long overdue.
One way to address the climate emergency through planning is to ensure that the re-use of existing buildings is the first option in redevelopment, rather than the current situation where demolition is seen as quick and simple, despite the waste of resources.
These points and more have been put more fully in an Open Letter by a group of organisations mobilised by drp archaeology, which can be read here. This has gained almost 2,400 signatures and has just been sent to key organisations and individuals.
RESCUE Says: Wholesale changes to the planning system have been outlined on various occasions in recent years, and many respondents have expressed concerns about the apparent threats to heritage protection regimes these may pose. There is little in the announcement contained in the Queen’s Speech on 11th May that suggests any of these concerns have been acknowledged or addressed by the Government. RESCUE remains highly sceptical that there will be any positive enhancements for planning-related heritage protection toolkits in these proposals.”