The Local Development Plan and Heritage
The decision as to whether a proposal for building works or change of use gains planning permission is made in accordance with a plan for land use and activity for the whole area: the development plan (ref. 1).
The development plan comprises a local development plan prepared by the local planning authority and the neighbourhood development plan for the area, if there is one. It also comprises the regional development plan, if there is one.
A decision may be made that is contrary to the development plan only if a material consideration indicates that the development plan ought to be overridden (ref. 1). Policies within the NPPF are a material consideration in all planning applications (ref. 2).
Listed building consent decisions do not have to be determined in accordance with the development plan. They should be determined in accordance with the law (ref. 3) and the relevant policies in the NPPF (ref. 4). The objectives of the development plan and its policies may, though, be a material consideration in those decisions.
The objective of local development plans
Local development plans must be prepared with the objective of contributing to sustainable development (ref. 5). They should therefore be consistent with the principles and policies set out in the NPPF which defines sustainable development (ref. 6). The NPPF contains: objectives for planning (including the objective of protecting and enhancing the historic environment); specific policies about certain topics (including conservation of the historic environment); and specific policies on what local development plans should contain. Local plans must align with those objectives and adhere to the specific policies in order to be adopted.
The NPPF emphasises that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. Achieving sustainable development means the planning system has three overarching objectives which are interdependent and need to be pushed in a mutually supportive way (ref. 7). So local plans should address relevant economic, social and environmental objectives. Significant adverse impacts should be avoided and wherever possible alternate options which reduce or eliminate such impacts should be pursued (ref. 8).
In practice for heritage assets this means local plans should seek opportunities to conserve and where appropriate enhance the significance of heritage assets and the contribution of their settings. Significant adverse affects should be avoided altogether and alternatives sought to reduce or mitigate unavoidable adverse impacts.
Specific policy requirements for local development plans
To be compliant with the NPPF, local development plans should include:
- Strategic policies to deliver conservation and enhancement of the historic environment (ref. 9)
- A positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment including heritage assets most at risk through neglect, decay or other threats. (ref. 11)
- The strategy should take into account (ref. 11) :
- the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets and putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation
- the wider social, cultural and environmental benefits that conservation of the historic environment can bring
- the desirability of new development making a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness, and
- opportunities to draw on the contribution made by the historic environment to the character of a place.
The above requirements can potentially influence all local plan policies on all different issues. A ‘positive’ strategy for the conservation of heritage assets will very often require consideration of land use policies so that the threat of decay through disuse can be proactively diffused, for example. It is clearly not sufficient for local plans to contain generic policies that repeat the broad objectives of the NPPF. All the policies in the local plan taken together should be demonstrably fit for the purpose of achieving conservation and enhancement of heritage assets.
It is important that the policies for heritage conservation are labelled as ‘strategic’ policies for two reasons:
- To comply with the requirements of the NPPF (ref. 9)
- To ensure neighbourhood development plans have to align with them as one of the ‘basic conditions’ for their approval (ref. 12)
Once a neighbourhood development plan has demonstrated its general conformity with the strategic policies of the local plan, the policies it contains take precedence over existing non-strategic plans in the local plan for that neighbourhood (ref. 13). So a local plan is unlikely to demonstrate that it will achieve the sustainable development objective of net gains for the historic environment unless it has strategic policies in place, as neighbourhood development plans may override ‘non-strategic’ heritage-related policies. Find more information on neighbourhood planning.
In considering land allocations and development densities necessary to deliver the objectively assessed development needs for an area, it is vital to assess if there are any adverse impacts on heritage assets and their settings. These should be avoided (ref. 8).
If they are unavoidable, a decision will have to be made, in accordance with the policies in the NPPF, as to whether the public benefits outweigh the harm (ref. 14). If they do, then still the impact should be mitigated, perhaps through design, size or height criteria. These considerations are also relevant to the planning application stage of securing permission.
Failure to show that the allocated development within the plan will not breach the policies within the NPPF is an obvious failure of the local plan to conform with the NPPF; plans which do not conform with the NPPF are unlikely to be found to be 'sound' when examined by a planning inspector, and cannot therefore be adopted by the local planning authority.
(2) Paragraphs 2 and 47, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, June 2021 Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Limited and others  UKSC 37 (paragraphs 19 - 21)
(3) Section 16, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990
(4) Paragraph 189 - 190 and footnote 67, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(6) Paragraph 16, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(7) Paragraph 7and 8, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(8) Paragraph 32, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(9) Paragraph 20, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(11) Paragraph 190, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(12) Paragraph 8(2) Schedule 4B, Town and Country Planning Act 1990
(13) Paragraph 30, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021
(14) Paragraphs 14, 201 and 202, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021