Friday, 7 September 2012

Locally listed buildings (3)

Hugh Winfield, who is Archaeologist and Historic Environment Record Officer with a local planning authority, has contributed the following thoughts to this discussion:

“I was forwarded a link to your blog by one of my managers as we are currently working on a major overhaul and update of our Local List. The idea that, because Local Listing gives no protection, we should not bother compiling such lists is one that I have come across on a regular basis and I have dealt with by saying the following:

"The intention behind compiling Local Lists is to raise awareness of the importance of the assets covered and provide information to developers, planners and the public. The Local Lists provide an important middle ground between the extensive Historic Environment Records, which attempt to record all historic assets whether of special interest or not, and the National Designations which have strict criteria and must be of national interest."

“Rather than duplicating the effect of Conservation Areas and Article 4s, Local Lists should be seen as part of the evidence base for the declaration or continued existence of the protected areas, with Conservation Area Management Plans and Local Plans/LDFs providing the policies.

“I'm not saying that everybody who works on Local Lists intends to use them in this way, but it is the most effective use of them and we know from experience here that Local Listing in isolation provides no protection to Historic Assets.

“I hope this explains a little of the reasons behind Local Listing and settles your mind as to why we spend so much time compiling them.”

I am grateful to Hugh for this contribution. I appreciate the aims of Hugh and his colleagues, which no doubt reflect the approach of other local authority planners in various authorities around the country in compiling local lists. And yet it still does not answer the fundamental question as to why it should be felt necessary to compile local lists when the statutory list is pretty comprehensive, and arguably includes some buildings whose listable quality is perhaps open to question.

I just feel that the planning system is already far too prescriptive, a view which is clearly shared by the government, and so we should not be putting yet more obstacles in the way of development. LPAs have the power to designate Conservation Areas and to make Article 4 Directions. These powers, combined with the listing of buildings under section 1 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, not to mention the powers of LPAs to give buildings temporary protection pending a decision by English Heritage (and ultimately DCMS) as to whether a currently unlisted building should be ‘spot-listed’, really ought to be sufficient in themselves to preserve our built heritage.

I am actually quite an enthusiast for historic buildings, and I have a particular interest in vernacular architecture, but I believe it may prove to be counter-productive to attempt to preserve or protect everything in aspic. It could ultimately undermine the real protection of our built heritage and bring the whole system of protecting heritage assets into disrepute. In the same way, I feel that there has been over-use of conservation area designations, and this has tended to dilute the perceived value of conservation areas in some cases.

One final point occurs to me. Whatever Hugh’s intentions (and those of officers doing similar work in other authorities), the way in which local lists are subsequently used in the context of development management may go rather beyond the intentions of conservation officers in compiling these local lists. The development plan may well include a prescriptive policy which seeks to resist or control the redevelopment, adaptation or alteration of locally listed buildings, and officers in development management may then apply those policies as a blanket reason for refusing permission for such developments. The conservation officers may not have intended that their local lists should be used in that way, but that is what all too often happens in practice. I really think we would be better off without such extra-statutory lists.

© MARTIN H GOODALL (with thanks to Hugh Winfield)

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