Local authorities’ implementation of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) heritage protection policies has ‘significant shortcomings’, according to a new report by government advisor Historic England.

New research published by the statutory consultee, Heritage in Planning Decisions: the NPPF and Designated Heritage Assets, involved a review of 318 planning applications “where heritage assets were likely to be worthy of examination”. Most of these were from the financial year 2016-17, the report said.

The NPPF’s paragraphs 128 and 134 outline how authorities should handle applications that potentially impact on heritage assets. The weight of the harm to the heritage asset should be balanced against a proposal’s public benefits, the NPPF says.

According to the report, the study, which was carried out by planning consultancy Green Balance on behalf of Historic England, “identifies significant shortcomings in the implementation of NPPF policies for the appropriate protection of designated heritage assets”.

The study found that “take-up of NPPF policies in heritage-related planning applications across the country as a whole is patchy”, while the “overall picture of the protection of designated heritage is disappointing”.

If found that “none” of the three main groups of participants in the planning process – applicants, local authority heritage advisers and planning case officers – “performed obviously well”.

The research showed that the NPPF was being “applied weakly” with 30 per cent of applications recommended for approval “without any reference to harm to heritage”.

The evidence showed that authorities found ‘no harm’ to heritage assets “at a surprisingly high rate, considering the sampling method was chosen to identify applications where assessment of harm was worthwhile”.

The report states: “The balance between heritage and other public benefits was found to be a judgement easily made in favour of other benefits.”

Key recommendations include a new checklist of “steps for complying with the NPPF when a planning application may affect designated heritage assets”.

To address the “generally unsatisfactory level of application of the NPPF heritage policies”, the report recommends that Historic England publishes and promotes the checklist.

Council planning teams should also “be trained in the proper application of policy on the settings of heritage assets, so that NPPF heritage policies can be applied effectively”, while more guidance on the issue should be provided in the government’s Planning Practice Guidance.

It further suggests that authorities “should more vigorously refuse to register or process planning applications” that “fail to satisfy the information requirements of NPPF paragraph 128, until this information is provided”.

A second report published by Historic England, The Heritage Dimension of Planning Applications, involved a study of 861 planning applications determined in 2016 by nine local planning authorities – three ‘urban’, three ‘rural’, and three ‘mixed’ urban and rural authorities.

It found that just over a quarter of the applications had a heritage dimension. 91 per cent of these were granted permission, compared to 89 per cent of all applications. Consequently, the inclusion of heritage assets “do not appear to have a negative impact on the outcome of planning applications”, the report states.

Both reports can be found here.

Source: John Geoghegan, Planning Resource, 8 May 2018

Local Comment: Some questionable recent decisions in both Clifton Park Conservation Area and Hamilton Square Conservation Area illustrate these national concerns very well – Philip Barton