Local planning authorities make most of the decisions regarding change to heritage assets. They are responsible for holding information on the historic environment through Historic Environment Records ( HERs ). They have powers to address heritage at risk. They are often owners of some of the most important heritage assets in their area.
Planning for the historic environment
Local planning authorities are responsible for the preparation of planning policies on the sort of property development and use that is appropriate to their areas. These local development plans should be the means of delivering the local planning authority’s core strategy for the area and the Government’s objectives for the historic environment, as set out in the NPPF (1).
Information on the historic environment
Every local planning authority is obliged to ensure that they have evidence about the historic environment and heritage assets in their area and that this is publicly documented. Each should maintain or have access to a historic environment record (HER) (2). Contact details and access arrangements for each can be found on the Heritage Gateway website.
Local planning authorities employ or have access to specialist conservation staff to advise on planning policy and decisions on applications for listed building consent and the like. Without appropriate expertise a local planning authority may fail in their responsibility under heritage protection law and policy, including, for example, the duty to assess the particular significance of any heritage asset affected by a proposal and its impact (3).
Over and above their general responsibility to understand and seek to conserve the historic environment in their areas, local planning authorities are encouraged to identify specific heritage assets in their area through a local list. They help to identify buildings or sites of interest as a catalyst for care and intervention where there is heritage at risk, and they bring clarity and certainty to the planning process.
Local planning authorities are responsible for deciding whether to give planning permission and listed building consent. They also decide whether to designate a conservation area and whether something is a non-designated heritage asset. They are not responsible for designating any other designated heritage assets or for deciding scheduled monument consent, which is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as advised by Historic England.
Enforcement and prosecutions
Local Planning Authorities have prime responsibility for taking enforcement steps for a breach of listed building, conservation area and planning controls. They may bring prosecutions, serve enforcement notices or seek injunctions. Prosecutions can provide a valuable deterrent to wilful damage and local planning authorities are encouraged to bring a prosecution where a good case can be sustained. A growing number of local authorities are signatories to a memorandum of understanding with the police, CPS and Historic England which sets out the various authority roles in tackling heritage crime (4).
Heritage at risk
Local planning authorities should set out in their local development plan a positive strategy for the conservation of heritage assets most at risk through neglect, decay or other threats (5). Many local authorities have their own heritage at risk registers as a means of focusing planning strategies and enforcement steps on the heritage assets most in need.
Local authorities have a number of powers to actively prevent deterioration and loss of heritage assets, such as urgent works notices, compulsory purchase powers and dangerous structure notices.
Transport and traffic management
Local authorities have part responsibility for the road network. Major new road projects can have an especially wide-ranging impact on the historic environment, not just visually and physically, but indirectly, for example, by altering patterns of movement or commerce and generating new development pressures or opportunities in historic areas.
To achieve Government’s objectives for sustainable development in the historic environment local highway and planning authorities are advised to integrate their activities and to take care to avoid or minimise impacts on heritage assets and their setting.
Retaining existing street patterns and structures and minimising new signage and street furniture is usually desirable in historic areas.
Historic properties in local authority care
Given the numerous ways in which a local authority influences general behaviour towards our heritage assets it is of obvious importance that it adheres to principles of best practice in the conservation of its own properties and sets the standard in integrating that conservation into sustainable development in the management of its own estate.