16 Jul 2022
by Catherine Bell

For a Day in Archaeology this year I thought I’d share a snapshot of something that is on my desk. This is one of the more strategic lines of CBA work, which is not so visible to the public eye.

What is this legislation for? How will it impact heritage?

The fact that a ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration’ Bill is currently passing through Parliament might not be on your radar. However, its impact, and the varying consequences that depend on ‘getting it right’, is quite likely to touch everyone in England as it is a central part to an overhaul of the planning system. There is an intended focus on levelling up those areas of the country with social and economic struggles. Hence the inclusion of ‘regeneration’ too – it’s hoped to restore good fortune to ‘left behind’ places. And there is the hook for heritage.

Unusually, ‘heritage’ gets a chapter in the Bill. Clauses 92-95 (as drafted) will give heritage protection measures a stronger footing. The first is though the provision of Temporary Stop Notice powers for heritage consent regimes. This is an extension of the powers local authorities have to require activity to cease if it appears to be in breach of planning control, pending further investigation, to listed building consent as well. The second measure is a removal of the obligation of compensation from Building Preservation Notices (BPNs), which is known to deter planning authorities from issuing them. At present, local authorities can serve a BPN on an unlisted building that is under threat of demolition so it is protected whilst it is considered for listing. However, this power is rarely used because if the listing application is unsuccessful the LPA is liable to pay compensation to the owner, for example, for any delay caused to a development contract. The drafted change to the law would better enable planning authorities to ‘do the right thing’ for heritage without fear of repercussions. A third measure is the introduction of the ability to serve Urgent Works notices for listed buildings, even when occupied. This would remove existing ambiguity around buildings in partial use. There is also an alteration to the wording within existing legislation to better align it with the policy that governs the historic environment.

The heritage sector is delighted that a long advocated-for change, making Historic Environment Records (HERs) a statutory requirement, is included as clause 185. This means that all the knowledge about a place, accumulated through a variety of investigations over time, MUST be maintained by the relevant planning authority. As a result, development proposals for a site should be informed by an understanding of what is known to be (or have been) there before. This helps new development proposals build on and maintain an existing ‘sense of place.’ HERs are widespread, but funding cuts have made their provision patchy. Making their maintenance a statutory requirement, accompanied (hopefully) by adequate resourcing is a no brainer for a ‘plan led’ planning system.

The CBA’s position

The CBA advocate and campaign for appropriate protection and informed change within the historic environment. As part of this work we are involved in the consultation processes that accompany a planning Bill’s progression through Parliament. This is an area of the CBA’s work which is largely invisible to our members and the public, so let me explain what we are doing. In collaboration with a wide variety of other specialist bodies we are feeding back comments and recommendations through 4 different advocacy groups. They focus on different elements of our interests.

The first advocacy group is a coalition of Archaeology bodies. We are working with CIfA, ALGAO and FAME, along with a collection of wise and experienced archaeology professionals, to form a united archaeological voice about the way proposed planning reforms will impact on development led archaeology. Together we are providing the details and considerations required to turn the current proposals into workable strategies.

As one of the 6 National Amenity Societies with a statutory role in the planning system we collaborate with our colleagues as the Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies (JCNAS). Our collective experience through our listed building casework gives us a perspective on how heritage protection measures operate across the country for the built environment.

The other advocacy groups we are working within are The Heritage Alliance, which pulls together over 100 organisations from the independent heritage sector, ranging in size from The National Trust to local voluntary groups. The CBA are also part of the Better Planning Coalition, headed up by the CPRE and drawing together 18 charities and NGOs that represent a raft of voices ranging from Shelter, Community Action, Cycle Network and a raft of environmental bodies. Better Planning Coalition’s collective goal is for reforms to deliver a planning system that puts people, climate and nature at its heart.

The benefit of collective voices is impact based. Succinctly articulating the interests of these bodies with the shared aim of a better planning system means the civil servants drafting this legislation are able to efficiently engage with a raft of stakeholder groups in refining proposals for implementation. Creating forums for groups to proactively and strategically collaborate in responding to draft legislation and policy is a really effective way to input into the process.

The overhaul of planning legislation presents a lot of opportunities to improve on current provisions. There’s a lot to play for. Through teamwork and joined up thinking, the CBA are on with it!

Wider environmental reflections

There is remarkably little about climate change in the drafted Bill. This is surprising, since it is widely accepted as a golden thread that needs to run through all legislation if we are to reach net zero targets in time. With our partners, the CBA are promoting the importance of counting the embodied carbon in buildings as part of sustainability appraisals and viability assessments for new development. There is a crucial relationship between embodied energy, the whole-life carbon emissions involved in construction, and the carbon-cost of demolition work. Our view is that the sensitive re-use of old buildings is almost always preferable to demolition and new building. The Environmental Audit Committee's report 'Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction' (see link) suggests the introduction of a mandatory requirement for whole-life carbon (WLC) assessments for buildings. We would support this becoming part of primary legislation and would also support the report’s recommendation that an approved UK national methodology for WLC Assessments is introduced, in order to facilitate their quick and widespread use.

Related topics

Catherine Bell

Council for British Archaeology

Contact details

Catherine Bell

Council for British Archaeology