The Planning System

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

It's through the planning system that most changes to buildings and land in England are managed. It guides decisions on proposed changes to historic buildings and places, including those which are protected by listing.


The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development (NPPF, paragraph 7). Within this, the planning system has three overarching and interdependent objectives:

  • Social
  • Economic
  • Environmental

Heritage can play a part in delivering all three sustainable development objectives. Government's policy 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. However, there is a role for Historic England too, which is explained in Our Planning Services.

The planning system comprises a number of different elements. On the remainder of this page we set out the role of each of them in turn:

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 designated 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, and how they are expected to be applied. It was first issued in 2012, but current policy is set out in the 2018 edition. Historic England's NPPF briefing outlines some of the main changes between the 2012 and 2018 documents.

The NPPF covers the historic environment primarily in paragraphs 184 - 202 (Chapter 16). View our presentation introducing the National Planning Policy Framework 2018 and the changes to heritage policy since 2012. The implementation of the policy now contained in Chapter 16 is discussed further in a number of the guidance notes listed below.

The historic environment is also addressed elsewhere in the NPPF. Find out more about heritage policy in the NPPF that lies outside the historic environment chapter.

National planning guidance

The Government's Planning Practice Guidance (PPG), gives further information on how national policy is to be interpreted and applied locally. The Planning Practice Guidance is available - together with the NPPF - 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 you may have as an owner, developer or person representing a local planning authority.

Historic England planning advice

Our written advice is available to support owners, developers and local planning authorities when you're considering proposed changes to historic buildings and places, usually referred to as heritage assets.

Historic England's published planning advice comes in two forms:

  • Good Practice Advice notes (GPAs) - provide supporting information on good practice, particularly looking at the principles of how national policy and guidance can be applied.
  • Historic England Advice Notes (HEANs) - include detailed, practical advice on how to implement national planning policy and guidance.

We are currently reviewing our advice in light of the changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, and will amend it, where necessary, in due course.

Historic England can also advise on individual cases - both at the point of the decision being made in the planning system, but also before an applicant starts the formal planning application process. See Our Planning Services.

Good Practice Advice (GPAs)

The GPAs address plan-making and decision-taking, and other issues which are important in good decision-making affecting heritage assets. GPAs 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.

Historic England Advice Notes (HEANs)

These are advice notes covering various planning topics in more detail and at a more practical level. They have been prepared by Historic England following public consultation.

Other relevant advice published by Historic England includes:

The Historic England Planning Bulletin is produced monthly, and highlights some of the recent and forthcoming developments in the world of planning from a heritage perspective.

Local Plans

Local planning authorities, usually the district or borough council, 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 are also 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.

When making decisions on contested heritage, local planning authorities might find this checklist helpful

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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