70th Anniversary of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947: Summary of the Findings

by Dr Deborah Mays, Head of Listing Advice, Historic England

The ambition of the 1947 Act was high, intending to enable human happiness, beauty and culture to play a greater part in our social and economic life. Our contributors have each provided personal assessments of the act’s outcomes and shared themes emerge from their valuable viewpoints.

Planning as we know it today was shaped by the ’47 Act. Victoria, Hugh and Harry confirm that the core relationship with conservation and listing was brought about by it and remains critical as a benefit to us all. The pieces of the jigsaw sit comfortably. Agreed too is the legislation’s fundamental aim to provide for high-quality place-making, having a clear emphasis on shaping and managing the built environment positively in the public interest.

The general public broadly approves of the system the act created and the balance it achieved. James touches on modern barriers to housing provision but Harry and I approach answers here, in the creative and imaginative adaptation of the heritage. We must demonstrate the opportunities that our built and historic environment brings through collaboration to meet national targets. Bob identifies one of many errors in Scruton’s belief that the act prevented economic growth, pointing out the false economy of failing to apply sanctions on the destruction of the special architectural and historic interest it protects.

Securing an irreplaceable treasure is a clear theme and David shows how, through Enriching the List, we can bring its relevance and ability to capture our history, to the attention of all.

There is a resounding agreement that the ’47 Act is something to be celebrated. As Hugh advises, it had a radical heart, was elegant in structure and poetic in outcome. It can be credited with one of the great successes of the post-war period – the protection of our built and historic environment and its character. Its principles are even more relevant and vital to society today, facing drastic climatic and environmental change, than when introduced 70 years ago.

Owner Donald Yeaman standing outside the accumulator building of Stockton Wireless Station in Stockton on Tees, Teesside
Owner Donald Yeaman standing outside the accumulator building of Stockton Wireless Station in Stockton on Tees, Teesside. Thought to be the Royal Navy’s only station capable of intelligence gathering at the outbreak of the First World War, it is now a private home © Historic England DP174578

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