Friday, 24 August 2012

Locally listed buildings (2)

In addition to several brief comments which have been appended to my previous piece on this subject, I have received two longer contributions from correspondents, which I felt justified a post to themselves.

Andy Ward writes:

“I don't have a problem with the principle of an LPA identifying buildings that have local architectural or historic merit where they fall below national standards for statutory listing, or are relatively isolated from other buildings of quality and therefore couldn't be placed in a conservation area.

“An underlying problem is the arbitrary nature with which most LPA's go about identifying local buildings of interest and then making information on them available.

“Some do at least go through the process of adopting their local list as an SPD (e.g. Cheltenham), thereby giving it more weight as a material consideration, and giving the LPA the opportunity to adopt clear criteria for including buildings in a list. However, this would not seem to be a practical means of adding, removing or amending entries on an ad hoc basis.

“(A passing thought: does the NPPF put the seal on the conclusion that a local list that has not been adopted as SPD and has no relevant development plan policy should be given negligible or even no weight?)

“Also, any owner or long-term tenant of a property should have a right to be consulted by the LPA before their property is added to a list, which clearly doesn't happen most of the time. Not that this would be much help without a formal appeal or arbitration process in the event of an objection.

“The local list concept is driven by the idea that it would be a shame for a building of interest to be demolished, or inappropriately altered or extended, just because it isn't good enough to be statutorily listed or placed in a conservation area. (I could be cynical and say that it is also driven by the desire of some officials to meddle, interfere and dictate without compunction.)

“There is, of course, an alternative to local lists that offers interested parties the chance to object and appeal within an existing legal framework. All an LPA needs to do when it identifies a building of local interest is to serve an Article 4 Direction.

“This would immediately require the LPA to be a little more exacting in its analysis of the worth of a building, what with the compensation risk for a start, and those affected would have a proper means of challenging the decision.

“With this option already available I don't see why LPAs should have the right to have any regard whatsoever to a local list: a building is either valuable enough to serve an Article 4 Direction on it or the LPA is not warranted in seeking to prevent demolition, alterations or extensions on the basis of what is ultimately an arbitrary and undemocratic prevention of the exercise of development rights.”

And CT contributes the following thought:

“My understanding is that the national list may only consider the rarity or uniqueness of a building in the national context.

“Of course, other merits are to be expected besides quantity remaining; but assuming other merits are present then local listing offers the possibility of identifying buildings rare locally that would not make the national cut if ten-a-penny in some distant town. Perhaps still not enough to justify the entire practice but I thought I would raise it.

“If ever the local listing is implied as giving some protection beyond that of whichever local plan policy it links back to, then this would be a cause for concern. I have not come across such behaviours though.

“PPS5 made the shift from the binary designated/undesignated, to a spectrum of possibilities that "includes" (non exhaustive) identified heritage assets, which could be either by the LPA or informally identified by communities or the applicant. I think we may be stuck with this until... well, the next Parliament anyway.”

This prompts me to add the following further comments:

The definition of ‘heritage assets’ in the NPPF (picking up from the former PPS5) includes locally listed buildings (as David Merson pointed out in his comment on my previous post). Thus the exclusion of the presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ in paragraph 14 and footnote (9) of the NPPF, to which I have previously drawn attention [see “The presumption in favour of sustainable development” - Saturday, 30 June 2012] has the effect of excluding locally listed buildings from this presumption. It does not appear to me that one can infer from the NPPF that local lists should have been formally adopted as SPD in order to benefit from the effect of paragraph 14 and footnote 9. Bearing in mind the lack of formality with which these local lists could be compiled, it seems to me that this could introduce a very undesirable constraint on development without due process.

Like Dr Anton Lang, I think we already have far too many listed buildings and conservation areas, without adding ‘locally listed buildings’ on top of these. As long ago as April 2010 I proposed, through the alter ego of ‘James Hacker MP’, a fundamental reappraisal of these designations, conducted at a central government level [see “REAL Reform of the Planning System” - Tuesday, 20 April 2010]. However, I don’t think I could go so far as Dr Lang in proposing a strict numerical limit on such designations in any one area.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Locally listed buildings

One of the practices of some local planning authorities that has always irritated me is the compilation of local lists of buildings which the authority considers are of architectural or historic interest, or which they regard as ‘landmark’ buildings.

The reason for my irritation is that we have a well-established statutory system in this country for the formal listing of buildings of architectural or historic interest on a national basis. These are buildings which are objectively assessed by English Heritage as being of architectural or historic interest and which are then included by the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) on the statutory list under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Buildings which are not included in the statutory list are, by definition, not of listable quality, and if anyone thinks they are, there are procedures available for having them listed, if DCMS on the recommendation of English Heritage agrees that they should after all be included in the statutory list. An LPA can seek the ‘spot listing’ of a building by DCMS, and if it is considered to be of listable quality it will subsequently be added to the statutory list; if not, then it won’t.

Where unlisted buildings which in themselves are not of listable quality form a group which the LPA considers is worthy of protection, they have the power to designate a Conservation Area under the same Act. In many cases, conservation areas include both listed and unlisted buildings. The protection given to unlisted buildings in a conservation area is less than that afforded to buildings on the statutory list, but their demolition is at least prevented without prior consent.

Thus there is no justification for LPAs to compile their own entirely unofficial lists of ‘locally listed’ buildings. Such a list has no statutory effect and does not affect the legal status of that building in any way. Inclusion of a building in a ‘local list’ does not afford it any formal legal protection. At most, the fact that a building is included in a ‘local list’ of ‘landmark’ buildings, or however they are described, may be a material consideration in the determination by the LPA of any planning application relating to development affecting that building, but that is as far as it goes.

The full range of Permitted Development rights will continue to apply to a ‘locally listed’ building, unless it is in a conservation area – in which case the same slightly reduced PD rights as apply to other unlisted buildings in a conservation area will continue to apply to the ‘locally listed’ buildings within that area. If the LPA wishes to restrict or remove PD rights, they can do so only by making an Article 4 Direction applying to a specific building or buildings or to a specified area within the district.

Thus the existing protection of the statutory system of listed buildings and conservation areas is more than adequate to ensure the protection and preservation of buildings worthy of such protection, and the extra-statutory designation by LPAs of ‘locally listed’ buildings is entirely unnecessary, and should be discouraged.

Bearing in mind the lack of formal protection given to ‘locally listed’ buildings, a determined developer can afford to take a robust approach in these cases, and may well be able to so arrange matters as to entirely circumvent the purported protection which the LPA has sought to give to ‘locally listed’ buildings. If it is not in a conservation area, demolishing the building in question before putting forward a planning application for the redevelopment of the site may well be an attractive proposition. In fact, the ‘local listing’ of such a building might well encourage such an approach, in order to avoid the sort of arguments that might arise over its demolition and replacement if the building were to be left in place while the redevelopment proposals are under consideration.

So ‘local listing’ of buildings might in practice prove to be counter-productive from the LPA’s point a view. This is something which Bristol City Council may care to ponder, as the latest LPA to contemplate the possibility of ‘local listing’.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Bloggers of the world unite!

Tempting though it is to expand into other subjects, especially political controversies of all kinds, I have so far managed to avoid any inclination to stray outside the field of town and country planning in this blog, and I intend (solely for reasons of relevance) to stick to that resolution. There is more than enough going on in the world of town planning to keep me occupied without getting distracted by other subjects.

One of the hallmarks of this blog, ever since it was originally started back in 2005 as part of the RTPI’s ‘Planning Matters’ website, has been a robust independence of view and from time to time some trenchant comments, directed particularly at the nonsensical utterances and downright silly decisions of politicians at all levels. This is not blind prejudice on my part, but a healthy disrespect, born of long experience. The position of most politicians, up to and including cabinet ministers (particularly with regard to town and country planning) is one of profound ignorance, all too often compounded by breathtaking arrogance. I do not exempt the members of any political party, whatever its colour, from that damning criticism – this blog has no party political bias. I am, of course, aware of the desirability of keeping any excoriating comments within reasonable bounds, but I would nevertheless defend to the utmost the principle of independence of thought and of expression in all media.

My reason for mentioning this is that a fellow blogger, whose blog I greatly admire and respect, has recently come under threat from ‘the powers that be’ (together with other similar blogs). The blogger I have in mind writes “The Magistrate’s Blog” (alternatively known as “The Law West of Ealing Broadway”) under the nom de plume of “Bystander” - . Since 2005, he has provided a fascinating insight into the work of a lay magistrate, with relevant comments on many of the issues facing the criminal justice system in recent years. It has greatly increased my respect for the lay magistracy and for the vital work that they perform. It has, on the other hand, also served to shine a very unflattering light on the nonsenses that many of those involved in the criminal justice system have had to put up with from politicians of all political persuasions, in the form of legislation, administrative disruption and generally being messed about by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. “Bystander” has not hesitated to comment adversely on these nonsenses, and this, I suspect may be the reason behind the edict recently issued by none other than the Senior Presiding Judge (of which the following is an extract):

Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.........Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general...........Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action."

I do not hold any judicial office, nor am I ever likely to do so, but I am happy to lend my support in defence of freedom of speech within the ‘blogosphere’. I very much hope that “Bystander” and other judicial bloggers will take absolutely no notice of this pompous nonsense from the Senior Presiding Judge. All he has achieved by this edict is to demonstrate just how out of touch he is with the rest of the world. Nothing that “Bystander” and other judicial bloggers have written could seriously be thought to damage public confidence in their impartiality or in the judiciary in general; quite the opposite - “Bystander” has done great good service to the magistracy by his blogging, and long may he continue to do so. I hope readers of this blog will visit “the Magistrate’s Blog” if they have not already done so, and will express their support for its continued publication on the internet in whatever way they can.

Fiat iustitia, et ruat coelum!


Monday, 20 August 2012

Back from our hols

Like a lot of other people at this time of the year, I have taken the opportunity recently of a much needed break from what has proved to be an incredibly busy year so far. Hence the recent absence of new posts while I was away.

I am rather hoping that the workload may prove a bit more manageable in the coming months than it had been in the first half of the year. Working long into the evening, and right through weekends and bank holidays for weeks and months on end is not a good idea. For one thing, I would like to have enough time to write this blog occasionally, as it does seem to have become unexpectedly popular.

The blog (particularly in its original form) was intended primarily for fellow planning professionals, but it became clear after its relaunch in 2010 as an entirely independent blog that it was also attracting interest from non-specialist readers, and so I have tried to write it in a style that is accessible to all, even though some of the material is necessarily technical by its very nature. Town and country planning is, unfortunately, a far from simple or straightforward subject.

The number of page views for this blog had been running at a little above 10,000 per month for most of the past year, but reached a peak of over 16,000 for July. Inevitably, the numbers have fallen back in the present month, due partly to the lack of new posts during my absence on holiday and due also to the fact that many other people are no doubt also away this month. However, the overall trend in readership is very encouraging, and makes the effort of writing this blog well worthwhile.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Banner adverts hide eyesores

If you are a follower of this blog, you may remember that I posted an item on 13 February this year [“Large banner adverts on shrouded buildings”]. The gist of this piece was that large banner adverts serve to hide the ugliness of scaffolding when a building is under repair.

I illustrated this with some photos I took showing the Doge’s Palace in Venice a couple of years ago, the point being that if this is acceptable (on a purely temporary basis) in a World Heritage Site, then there really ought to be no difficulty in allowing such displays in British towns and cities when buildings are ‘in splints’.

No doubt the work on the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs has now been completed and these buildings have been restored to their full glory, sans banner advertisements, which were only ever going to be temporary and did not therefore justify the squeaks of protest from mainly British-based ‘conservationists’. The Italians clearly have a much more common-sense approach to these issues.

In April of this year, I came across another example in the Place Vendôme in Paris. Again, this was a purely temporary display on a building undergoing works on the south side of the square. Now I don’t know the precise heritage status of the Place Vendôme, but it must be pretty high, bearing in mind that it is a very early example of this type of urban development and was designed by the Sun King’s royal architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1680, but the Parisian authorities are clearly prepared to take a similarly common-sense view in such circumstances. Again, the display is no doubt purely temporary, and the adverts will come down when the scaffolding is taken down.

So please can British planners stop taking such a precious attitude to advertisement control, and allow these temporary banner displays (even in conservation areas and on or near listed buildings) while buildings are festooned in the detritus of scaffolding and other equipment when undergoing major repairs or other building work.