The CBA respond to government consultation on planning reforms
The planning system in England is undergoing a major overhaul. You may be aware that the ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration’ Bill is currently progressing through parliament. In advance of changes that this will introduce later this year, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (who are responsible for the planning system) have consulted on a redraft of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is the nuts and bolts of high level national planning policy that sets out the criteria for decision making. Policy Frameworks are great tools for implementing changes to the planning system relatively easily, compared to the procedures involved in making changes to legislation which have to go through parliament. The NPPF was last updated in 2021.
The current redraft holds very few implications for heritage, with no changes drafted to section 16, which concerns planning policies for the historic environment. However, we did identify ways that policy reform could promote greater sustainability and place shaping in the built environment around the adaptive reuse of buildings. The CBA’s consultation response focused on the role that old buildings play in contributing to local identity and a sense of place, whether they are designated or not.
We advocate that such buildings have an important role to play in delivering the missions of levelling up and regenerating left behind places. As part of this the CBA are advocating for a presumption in favour of adaptively reusing standing structures that contribute to local identity as opposed to demolition and new build alternatives. Not only do old sites mean something to local people they also contain a whole lot of embodied carbon. If we are going to meet net zero goals then we need to adaptively reuse standing buildings on environmental grounds too.
2023 NPPF Consultation Response
23. Do you agree that we should amend existing paragraph 62 of the Framework to support the supply of specialist older people’s housing?
Yes, there is a national social care crisis, which reform to planning policy could support in alleviating. There is an insufficient supply of appropriate domestic accommodation to care for older people. As a social group older people have specific requirements from housing in terms of accessibility and support, whilst also benefiting from proximity to local services and not relying on private transport. Incentivising housing to provide for these needs has the potential for wide reaching public benefits including freeing up family homes that are under-utilised by elderly couples or singletons and pressures on NHS capacity from a shortage of social housing to discharge elderly patients into.
Reusing existing buildings in urban centres can offer the type of well-connected locations with adjacent amenities that benefit older people, who have reduced requirements for private gardens and parking whilst also adding to elderly residents’ sense of place, identity and belonging. Policy to support the creation of older people’s housing in well-connected places is future focused, sustainable and rich in public benefits, as such it aligns with the overarching aims and objectives of the NPPF.
30. Do you agree in principle that an applicant’s past behaviour should be taken into account into decision making?
Yes. Local Authority planning officers are under immense pressures with issues around staff capacity and morale. The system currently relies on enforcement action, placing more pressure on over stretched planning teams to achieve the correct results of planning decisions. Enabling a recognition and awareness of developers’ past bad behaviour in decision making would act as a deterrent to developers as well as supporting the work of LPA planners.
Past bad behaviour that should be taken into account in decision making should include:
- Developers who have a history of allowing the condition of old buildings to degenerate to enhance arguments for their demolition
- Violating planning conditions in the knowledge that LPAs have very limited capacity for enforcement action
- Repeated variation of condition applications that would reduce the development’s aesthetic contribution to a place through quality of materials or architectural detailing, especially in a conservation area. This aligns with the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’ report.
31. Of the two options above, what would be the most effective mechanism?
33. Do you agree with making changes to emphasise the role of beauty and placemaking in strategic policies and to further encourage well-designed and beautiful development?
In principle, yes. Place-making is an important strategic planning policy objective, especially around levelling up. Alongside ‘beauty’ as a place-making component should be ‘local distinctiveness’, ‘identity’ and ‘time-depth’, recognising the phased development of places as a chief contributor to their character and the importance of this to local identity.
The identity of existing places is shaped by successive generations of local communities against shifting social and economic backdrops that is legible in historic features of the built environment. Historic features include buildings, layout, place names and open spaces. Good place-making builds on existing distinctiveness and identity. An important component in levelling up ‘left behind’ places is drawing out resilience from past identity into sustainable futures. This is not razing semblances of past industry and subsequent degeneration in the built environment. It needs to be a phoenix-like resurrection of places that used to generate community pride, demonstrating resilience in the place and the people. It is important that policy considerations to achieve ‘beauty’ are not at the cost of existing identity. This can be achieved by adapting standing buildings for a new use. Standing structures present great opportunities for architectural creativity. A presumption in favour of adaptively reusing buildings that can be identified as ‘non-designated heritage assets’ should be included in future iterations of the NPPF for place-making policy. This policy also offers benefits towards net zero targets through not wasting the embodied carbon in standing buildings. We would welcome explicit recognition of the symbiotic relationship between beauty and heritage character towards place-making within emerging planning policy.
The term ‘beauty’ is problematic, since it is so subjective especially when considering post-industrial buildings and spaces which can have a very raw feel not easily aligned to notions of ‘architectural and aesthetic beauty’. Any use of ‘beauty’ in planning policy requires a workable definition around aesthetic quality, style and complementary built and natural environmental components.
34. Do you agree to the proposed changes to the title of Chapter 12, existing paragraphs 84a and 124c to include the word ‘beautiful’ when referring to ‘well-designed places’ to further encourage well-designed and beautiful development?
Yes, if ‘beauty’ and ‘beautiful’ have workable definitions that removes the subjectivity of the terms and allows for well contextualised developments that complement local distinctiveness and character.
35. Do you agree greater visual clarity on design requirements set out in planning conditions should be encouraged to support effective enforcement action?
36. Do you agree that a specific reference to mansard roofs in relation to upward extensions in Chapter 11, paragraph 122e of the existing Framework is helpful in encouraging LPAs to consider these as a means of increasing densification/creation of new homes?
Please set out the reasons for your answer
Mansard roofs are a specific architectural form of upward extension that should not be stipulated in national planning policy, which in general takes a higher level approach towards policy. We support the principle of gentle increases in density that can be achieved through upwards extension. This should be in keeping with the character of the existing building and area.
The form and historic fabric of roof structures can contribute to the significance of historic buildings. We would therefore hope that the NPPF explicitly excludes any blanket policy supporting upwards extensions to buildings as applying to designated buildings. Any alterations to listed buildings should remain subject to the requirements of section 16.
If no, how else might we achieve this objective?
This objective could be well achieved through alternative phrasing that does not specify a single design approach to upward extensions. Roof extensions can take many forms and should be appropriate for the character of the building and area it is in.
39. What method and actions could provide a proportionate and effective means of undertaking a carbon impact assessment that would incorporate all measurable carbon demand created from plan-making and planning decisions?
Demolition and rebuild in the built environment, as opposed to adaptive reuse of standing structures, causes huge carbon consumption and wastage that is contrary to government commitments to its Net Zero Strategy. Options appraisals for retention vs demolition too often focus on the daily carbon emissions and disregard the embodied carbon in the existing building, the resource use in demolition, and the carbon used in manufacturing, transporting and contained in materials in new construction. It is crucial that carbon impact assessments consider the whole life carbon of a building. Sustainability assessments by developers should recognise the embodied carbon of buildings and not focus simply on daily emissions. Old buildings can always be retrofitted to improve their day to day energy efficiency. The Carbon Leadership Forum have created a CARE tool (Carbon Avoided: Retrofit Estimator) to calculate and compare the embodied, operating and avoided carbon impacts and benefits of reusing and upgrading existing buildings or replacing them with new construction. More information can be found here - https://carbonleadershipforum.org/care-estimator/
The CBA recommend a presumption in favour of adaptively reusing buildings that constitute ‘non-designated heritage assets’ (NDHAs) or contribute to the character of a place. Tests should be applied to applications proposing the demolition of NDHAs requiring clear and convincing justification for not adaptively reusing the standing structure. These tests should include a whole life carbon assessment of the existing building and the carbon consumption of the proposed scheme. Comparative carbon consumption should be a material consideration in the planning balance.
To make adaptive reuse a financially viable / attractive option for developers there should be an equalisation of VAT on repair and adaptive reuse of existing buildings to the VAT on building a new development on a cleared site. The current VAT discrepancy disincentivises developers from pursuing low carbon, environmentally friendly options.
44. Do you agree with our proposed new Paragraph 161 in the National Planning Policy Framework to give significant weight to proposals which allow the adaptation of existing buildings to improve their energy performance?
“To support energy efficiency improvements, significant weight should be given to the need to support energy efficiency improvements through the adaptation of existing buildings, particularly large non-domestic buildings, to improve their energy performance (including through installation of heat pumps and solar panels where these do not already benefit from permitted development rights). Proposals affecting conservation areas and listed buildings should also take into account the policies set out in chapter 16 of this Framework.”
We are broadly supportive of retrofitting measures to improve the energy efficiency of listed buildings. Designation is intended to conserve a building’s significance not to prevent any change to it. Historically old buildings have had chimneys, hearths, glass windows, gutters, downpipes, central heating added to them as improvements for occupants. Energy efficiency measures are a continuation of adaptation and modernisation that has always happened. However, there are good and bad ways to achieve this. Old buildings operate differently to those with modern construction methods. It is crucial that materials and strategies operate successfully with the existing building fabric, maintaining their ‘breathability’. To avoid unintended harm, rot, mould and infestation to old building fabric it is important that supplementary PPG about appropriate retrofitting measures for historic buildings is identified and stipulated for use in pre-1918 buildings.
49. Do you agree with the suggested scope and principles for guiding National Development Management Policies?
The CBA welcome the proposal to create an NDMP that informs planning decisions about heritage assets, and which would have a statutory status. Many policies set out in section 16 of the NPPF are positive guiding principles for managing change to the historic environment, but lack sufficient weight in the decision making process.
Specifically with regard to decision making around heritage assets and change to the historic environment, the creation of an NDMP to replace section 16 of the NPPF offers an excellent opportunity for creating improved clarity, insisting on high standards of information to inform decision-making and recognising the importance of non-designated heritage assets (NDHAs) to place making, local identity and net zero carbon strategies.
An NDMP for the historic environment should include a redrafting of NPPF paragraph 194, encouraging/ requiring better information with heritage related applications. This should include both an assessment of heritage significance (according to its component values set out in Conservation Principles (Historic England, 2008)) and an assessment of the proposals on that significance. The poor quality of heritage statements informing proposals results in increases in time taken to determine applications – back and forwards between LPAs and applicants seeking improved information. It also increases costs for applicants – developing proposals which are not based on an understanding of significance means they would often cause unjustifiable harm, so revisions are required to reduce harmful impacts. This situation would be improved by requiring a heritage-skilled analysis of heritage significance and impact to inform proposed changes to heritage. Cadw have produced some very good PPG to these ends - https://cadw.gov.wales/sites/default/files/2019-05/20170531Heritage%20Impact%20Assessment%20in%20Wales%2026917%20EN.pdf
Statutory policy for the historic environment should provide improved protections / a presumption for the adaptive reuse of non-designated heritage assets over demolition.
The principles for designation around age, rarity and unaltered condition means old buildings that have been adapted to suit changing local tastes and needs or constructed since the mid C19th often do not meet the bar for designation. However, the build quality and contribution to local character of structures from the Victorian/ Edwardian era and early C20th can be high and contain considerable embodied carbon. Since they are undesignated such buildings have scant protection as heritage assets. In many ‘left behind’ places, targeted by the Levelling Up agenda, such non-designated heritage assets (NDHAs) disproportionately contribute to local identity and sense of place. Reform to planning legislation needs to recognise the opportunity NDHAs present for creative architectural responses through adaptive reuse. There are clear benefits in conserving the embodied carbon in NDHAs – a crucial component of net zero strategies. Equally importantly is the role of old buildings in regeneration, approaching place-making as active resilience in existing identity, as articulated in the built environment.
50. What other principles, if any, do you believe should inform the scope of National Development Management Policies?
The CBA share the same sentiment expressed by other archaeological stakeholders with the planning system. We believe that NDMPs should be subject to a principle of non-regression, whereby no existing LPA policy that exceeds national standards will be ‘levelled down’ by an imposed NDMP standard. Furthermore, local authorities should be able to, in future, use local discretion to increase standards if locally amenable. This may require a relaxed interpretation of caveats that permit policies relating to ‘distinctly local issues’ to be retained in local plans. For example, historic environment policies which enable an LPA to require all development sites above a given size to undertake archaeological evaluation are common in some areas. This relates to known character and density of archaeological remains in these areas. We support these types of local policy which provide additional information to planners and increased certainty to developers in the development management process, even where these policies may not be appropriate to implement nationally.
51. Do you agree that selective additions should be considered for proposals to complement existing national policies for guiding decisions?
Yes. We would expect there to be a sensible degree of discretion available to local authorities to retain policies which have positive effects locally where there is no similar national policy or create policies that relate to local need.
52. Are there other issues which apply across all or most of England that you think should be considered as possible options for National Development Management Policies?
Yes. An NDMP for retrofitting standing structures for energy efficiency and contribution to place-shaping would be beneficial nationwide. Net zero strategies need to recognise the importance of embodied carbon within the built environment. Clear guidance concerning staged carbon assessments, retrofitting strategies and a presumption in favour of adaptively reusing non designated heritage assets should be set out a national level.
NDMPs have the potential to operate as deft and nimble tools within the planning system that could be updated and revised in line with innovation and research. Climate change imperatives make statutory national policy in retrofitting buildings essential.
53. What, if any, planning policies do you think could be included in a new Framework to help achieve the twelve levelling up missions in the Levelling Up White Paper?
Before building works start development sites require proportionate evaluation of their archaeological potential. It is recognised that archaeology holds public value, but this is often limited to the knowledge created through archaeological excavation, with limited public engagement. It is a mitigation strategy for the destruction of the buried physical record that then enables construction works to be carried out on site. There is considerable research demonstrating that if reform to planning policy is developed to encourage development projects that prioritise value-led design and reject price-led minimum standards then development led archaeology will provide greater benefit to people and their local communities.
Archaeology should not just be seen as a mitigation process to allow development but as a key component of better planning and place shaping strategies. Contributing directly to the significance & distinctiveness of local places and the sense of connection to local communities. The CBA recommends that an enhanced approach to development led archaeology should ensure that the benefits derived from archaeological works in advance of development also contribute to the Levelling Up agenda by supporting the creation of distinctive & vibrant places. Archaeology, with a public participatory strand, allows people to get involved with the redevelopment and reimagination of local places, including town centres.
Recently published guidance by ALGAO Scotland exemplifies how this can be achieved - https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjRudWKrLj9AhUVgFwKHY7sD7UQFnoECA8QAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.algao.org.uk%2Fnews%2Fdelivery-public-benefit-and-social-value-archaeology-planning-process&usg=AOvVaw36zl-rSPFDpvIW7Hyl0LWJ
54. How do you think the Framework could better support development that will drive economic growth and productivity in every part of the country, in support of the Levelling Up agenda?
Development that seeks to regenerate left behind places needs to understand and strengthen the existing identity of a place to support and develop a sense of local resilience and restore pride in both a place and its people. Historic character and significance are key determining factors to local identity and distinctiveness. Brownfield and town centre sites offer great opportunities to deliver the levelling up missions to improve well-being, which stems from the relationship between people and places. Centrally located sites also support developing active transport links and non-car dependent access to amenities. Redeveloping the built environment by adapting standing structures to suit contemporary needs is the crux of the best examples of successful and long-lasting regeneration across the country.
Strategies informed and developed in line with historic character and distinctiveness rely on policies requiring for the assessment of historic character, local distinctiveness and biodiversity, along with identifying where opportunities to enhance these characteristics can be found. These goals are undermined by the current Permitted Development Right for demolition and financial incentives around new build alternatives to adaptive reuse. We would like to see both these situations reviewed as part of current reforms to planning legislation.
55. Do you think that the government could go further in national policy, to increase development on brownfield land within city and town centres, with a view to facilitating gentle densification of our urban cores?
Sustainable development of brownfield and town centre sites is welcomed. However, the sustainability of development in town and city centres is currently undermined by the discrepancy between 20% VAT on works to standing structures as opposed to 0% VAT for construction on cleared sites. The cost implications of this for developers means the embodied carbon in standing buildings is wasted. Demolition and rebuild is an inherently unsustainable development strategy and contrary to net zero carbon imperatives. Until this VAT discrepancy is rectified developers are disincentivised from contributing to these policy goals.