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Planning System

This page sets out how the planning system works to protect historic places.

It is through the planning system that most changes to buildings and land in England are carried out. This includes the way most decisions are made about proposed changes to historic buildings and places, including those which are protected by the designation system.

It is based on the principle of sustainable development, to be achieved simultaneously in three specific areas:

  • Social
  • Economic
  • Environmental

Heritage can play a part in all three. Government's overarching aim for heritage managed through the planning system is to conserve it for the enjoyment of this and future generations.

Local planning authorities are normally responsible for deciding on developments or changes to historic buildings and places in their areas, although there is a role for Historic England too, which is explained in Our Planning Services.

Our written advice is available to support owners, developers and local planning authorities when they are considering proposed changes to historic buildings and places, also known as heritage assets, which need to be given consent through the planning system.

The planning system includes the following parts:

  • Legislation
  • National Planning Policy and Guidance 
  • Historic England Practice Advice
  • Local Plans
  • Local decision making

Planning legislation

Planning legislation sets out how local plans should be made and how planning decisions should be taken. Historic England's Heritage Protection Guide explains in detail how planning law applies to historic buildings and places.

The law requires planning permission to be obtained for most developments or changes of use of existing buildings. Special heritage consents are required for some heritage, for example Listed Building Consent. Our List of Heritage Consents explains these in more detail.

National planning policy

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government's planning policies for following legislation (The Town and Country Planning Acts) and how they are expected to be applied.

Its central theme is the "presumption in favour of sustainable development", set out in 12 core land-use planning principles to underpin both plan-making and decision-taking.

The NPPF can be found on the Planning Practice Guidance website on the Planning Portal with the historic environment covered in paragraphs 17 and 126-141, among others.

National planning guidance

The Planning Practice Guide (PPG), also written by Government, gives further information on how national policy is to be interpreted and applied locally and underlines the support for sustainable development required by the NPPF. It may also be found on the Planning Practice Guidance website.

The PPG includes particular guidance on matters relating to protecting the historic environment in the section: Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment. This will answer many questions which owners, developers and local planning authorities may have.

Historic England planning advice

Historic England advice on plan-making and decision-taking in the planning system gives further information on heritage-related issues. It is not an alternative to, and should be read in the context of, national policy and guidance.

It does not, either, seek to prescribe a single methodology: alternative approaches may be equally acceptable, provided they are demonstrably compliant with national policies and objectives.

Historic England Planning Advice comes in two forms:

Good Practice Advice (GPA) - provides supporting information on good practice, particularly looking at the principles of how national policy and guidance can be put into practice. It follows the main themes of the planning system - plan-making and decision-taking - and other issues significant for good decision-making affecting heritage assets. GPA are the result of collaborative working with the heritage and property sectors in the Historic Environment Forum and have been prepared following public consultation.

Good Practice Advice notes 1, 2 and 3 supersede the PPS 5 Practice Guide which has now been withdrawn by Government.

Good Practice Advice 3 - The Setting of Heritage Assets supersedes the Setting of Heritage Assets: English Heritage guidance (2011) which has been withdrawn.

Historic England Advice Notes - include detailed, practical advice on how to implement national planning policy and guidance. There are Advice Notes covering topics covered in the Good Practice Advice Notes, and other topics which you can find on these web pages.

Historic England Advice Note 1 - Conservation Areas

Historic England Advice Note 2 - Making Changes to Heritage Assets 

Historic England Advice Note 3 - The Historic Environment and Site Allocations in Local Plans

Historic England also publishes advice on a range of other issues. Other titles include:-

Local Plans

Local authorities have to make a Local Plan, setting out planning policies for making planning decisions in their area, including those covering historic buildings and areas. Local plans have to be consistent with planning law and national policy and guidance.

Local decision making

Local Planning Authorities, usually the district or borough council, are responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should be allowed to go ahead and whether or not to grant planning permission for new buildings, major alterations to listed buildings or significant changes to the use of a building or piece of land.

They are also normally responsible for making decisions on whether or not to grant listed building consent.

Please note: On 1 April 2015 the part of English Heritage represented on this website changed its name to Historic England. You may notice that some of our content still refers to English Heritage. We are in the process of rebranding, but in the meantime please be assured that all our content and guidance is still correct.


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