Six years after the appearance of 'The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future' - the Government's response to 'Power of Place' - comes the much anticipated DCMS/Welsh Assembly Government White Paper 'Heritage Protection for the 21st Century'.
It is based on the core principles of developing a more unified approach to the historic environment, providing an inclusive and accessible system of designation and control, putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system and facilitating local management of the historic environment. Containing much that was trailed in consultation drafts - a unified system of designation, a more transparent and simpler consent system focused on local authorities, the introduction of Heritage Protection Agreements to better manage and streamline consent procedures on large or complex sites - the White Paper also introduces some welcome proposals: interim protection for buildings under consideration of listing; extending protection to items on local lists; and the potential merging of Conservation Area Consent with Planning Permission as a route to restoring pre-Shimizu levels of protection to buildings within Conservation Areas.
Sadly, however, it is silent on resources, imprecise on how some proposals will manifest themselves, worrying in its intention to extend the use of Certificates of Immunity, and disappointing in the method it proposes for the protection of locally listed buildings
The White Paper does look to empower Local Authorities, but this is largely about protection through the statutory process, rather than an increased ability to enhance our historic towns and cities through investment in public realm, in quality design in the highway and other pro-active aspects of heritage led regeneration. In this respect the impact of the proposed changes on the care and management of our historic towns will be limited.
Heralded by some as a once in a generation opportunity to shape the future of the historic environment, and by others as an exercise in re-arranging the deck chairs, the truth lies inevitably somewhere in between. Clearly, however, anything which helps to raise the profile of the historic environment and establishes it as a key focus of local authority activity is to be welcomed.
Parliamentary time is being sought in the next year to take this forward to a 'Heritage Bill'. In the more immediate future, the White Paper contains three consultation questions relating to proposals on the merger of Conservation Area Consent and Planning Permission, the introduction of a more formal process of pre-application, and the extension of the use of Certificates of Immunity. EHTF Members are urged to respond to the consultation and to read not only the White Paper but the accompanying documents on listing selection criteria and the fascinating Atkins survey of heritage service delivery in local authorities and, for good measures, to dip into the English Heritage 'Conservation Principles: Policies and Guidance' consultation document which is also currently available for comment. These are busy times for the policy makers in the heritage sector!
The White Paper, accompanying documents and consultation questions can be downloaded from the DCMS website at www.culture.gov.uk.
Vice Chair, EHTF