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Consultation on the Review of Planning Practice Guidance (DCLG)

Sangeeta Sofat
Review of Planning Practice Guidance
Department for Communities and Local Government
1/J1 Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1P 3JA.

11 February 2013

Dear Ms Sofat,

Consultation on the Review of Planning Practice Guidance –
Response from ALGAO:England

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Review of Planning Practice Guidance led by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. I am responding of behalf of the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers: England.

The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO) is the national body representing local government archaeology services at County, District, Metropolitan, Unitary and National Park authority level. These provide advice to nearly all the District, Unitary and other local government bodies in the country.

ALGAO: England co-ordinates the views of its member authorities (92 in total) and presents them to government and to other national organisations. It also acts as an advisor to the Local Government Association (LGA) on archaeological matters. The range of interests of our members embraces all aspects of the historic environment, including archaeology, buildings and the historic landscape, and our stated aims are to:

  • Provide a strong voice for local authority historic environment services and promote these to strengthen and develop their role within local government in delivering local and national government policy
  • Ensure local government historic environment services are included within policy (national and local) for culture and education
  • Ensure that policy aims to improve the sustainable management of the historic environment
  • Promote the development of high standards in the historic environment profession

General

ALGAO welcomes the publication of this review. The Association also broadly supports the Review Group’s recommendations to address the shortcomings of the current system.

Specific Questions

1. Do you agree with the recommendations of the Review Group overall?

1.1 In general, yes. The Association welcomes the opportunity for practitioner bodies to provide best practice guidance; for that guidance to be consistently and effectively applied, it should at least be endorsed by Government.

2. Do you agree with the proposed recommendations for a much reduced set of essential practice guidance in the format recommended? (Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 5, 6

2.1 In general, yes, but see paragraph 1.1 above. Although ALGAO supports the National Planning Policy Framework in its current form, it does require detailed elaboration in guidance. Much of the detail in PPS5 Planning for the Historic Environment: Historic Environment Practice Guide (2010) should be viewed as necessary guidance on what is required in considering applications relating to the historic environment (‘minimum compliance’) rather than discretionary good practice. The same can be said for the draft Historic Environment Forum (HEF) guidance (which improves upon the Practice Guide but needs additional work before it adequately or accurately deals with archaeological matters). If all of this detail cannot be included in high-level, Government-endorsed guidance, then it should at least be signposted in that guidance and produced by the sector with the support of Government.

2.2 ALGAO is strongly supportive of the far-sighted proposals for a web-based, live resource with active management and regular updates.

3. Do you agree that standards for future Government Planning Practice Guidance should be implemented by the Chief Planner in DCLG, but with decisions on what to include within guidance still taken by Ministers? (Recommendation 4)

3.1 Yes.

4. While access to all planning guidance online will be free of charge, do you think it would be appropriate to offer planning professionals an additional service involving immediate notification of every revision to the guidance, and to make a small charge for this service? (Recommendation 6)

4.1 Yes, and ideally this service should be available to all, free of charge.

5. Do you agree that the new web based resource should be clearly identified as the unique source of Government Planning Practice Guidance? (Recommendations 7-9)

5.1 Yes. Care will need to be taken (for instance, by date stamping) to ensure that, in use, the guidance is current and definitive.

6. Do you agree with the recommended timescales for cancellation of guidance and new/revised guidance being put in place? (Recommendations 10-13)

6.1 The timetable is challenging, but might be achieved (at least with regard to the historic environment) if the historic environment sector is fully and promptly engaged in the process.

7. Do you agree with the recommendations for cancellation of existing guidance documents? Are there specific, essential elements of current guidance material that should in your view be retained and considered for inclusion in the revised guidance set? (Recommendations 14 - 16)

7.1 For the most part, yes. We agree that PPS5 Planning for the Historic Environment: Historic Environment Practice Guide (2010) (Review Report, Annex C, document 31) should remain in place until replaced by revised guidance and we accept that this may involve a substantial reduction in the length of that guidance. However, we are concerned as to the extent of that reduction (see paragraph 2.1 above).

7.2 Such high-level Government guidance should in any event address the following in relation to archaeology:

7.2.1 Essential guidance to developers and local planning authorities on the use of Historic Environment Records (HERs) and the services which support them.

7.2.2 Clear guidance to developers and local authorities on undesignated heritage assets (including those with archaeological interest) covering the following areas:

  • an appropriate, clear and concise definition that encompasses all undesignated heritage assets,
  • clear guidance as to how undesignated assets can be managed sustainably to ensure appropriate conservation,
  • essential guidance on risk management to help avoid unnecessary constraints or delays to development caused by undesignated assets with archaeological interest.

7.3 ALGAO has seen a copy of the response of English Heritage to this consultation (dated 08 February, 2013) and supports the general thrust of its recommendations. However, we feel that the Essential Historic Environment Material for Government Planning Practice Guidance produced by English Heritage as Annex A to its consultation response does not deal adequately with the above objectives: In particular:

7.3.1 the Annex does not include guidance on HERs. ALGAO, as the representative organisation for the local authorities that manage HERs, suggests the following text for consideration which we feel provides the necessary essential information and which complements NPPF policies 128 and 169 and the definition in Annex 2 :

Historic Environment Records
The NPPF requires local planning authorities to maintain or have access to a Historic Environment Record (HER) and applicants to consult them as part of making an application for consent. These are publicly-accessible sources of information about the local historic environment.

As an information service managed by dedicated specialist staff, HERs consist of databases, indexes and reference collections linked to a Geographical Information System (GIS) and thus provide core information for plan-making, designation and development management decisions in the planning system as set out in the NPPF. HERs contain information on nationally and locally designated heritage assets, but are especially useful and important as the repository of information on non-designated heritage assets with archaeological and historic interest that are subject to the policies of the NPPF Further information can be found at: http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/CHR.

7.3.2 We are concerned about paragraph 6 of the Annex, specifically the sentences ‘A substantial majority of non-designated buildings and sites have little or no heritage significance. Only a minority have enough heritage interest for their significance to be a material consideration in the planning process’. We feel that these statements lack the necessary clarity of definition in respect of undesignated heritage assets and are also potentially misleading. For example, whilst it is clear that a substantial majority of the undesignated modern built environment has little or no significance, (in contrast) a substantial majority of the 1.5 million non-designated sites on Historic Environment Records (HERs) do have significance and will be a material consideration in the planning process - hence the importance of providing guidance on HERs to developers and local planning authorities.

7.3.3 Paragraph 17 of the Annex is inconsistent with the NPPF insofar as it refers only to ‘non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest [which should be afforded] the same weight in decisions as that afforded to designated heritage assets’. This ignores the much larger group of non-designated heritage assets whose significance is invariably less than that of designated heritage assets but which nevertheless warrant conservation through the planning process. Government policy and guidance should ensure that this is clearly understood, as it this group of undesignated heritage assets that developers and local authorities will most frequently have to consider. It is also essential that developers and local authorities are aware that, in some instances, heritage assets in this category will be revealed after pre-determination field evaluation to be of designation quality. ALGAO are very keen to ensure that developers are able to manage this risk, including by receiving information and advice from HERs. We therefore suggest the following addition to paragraph 17:

2. Other heritage assets of archaeological interest or that have the potential to hold archaeological interest. These are generally of lesser significance than those in the first category, but must still be considered in determining the application. Following assessment and evaluation prior to the determination of a planning application these can occasionally be revealed to have significance that clearly equals that of designated assets and places them in the first category.

ALGAO will continue to work with English Heritage and HEF partners to address these issues.

8. Do you agree with the recommended priority list for new/revised guidance? (Recommendations 17-18)

8.1 No. ALGAO wishes to see the revision of PPS5 Planning for the Historic Environment: Historic Environment Practice Guide (2010) included as an urgent priority to ensure the continued protection of the historic environment. In general we commend the HEF draft for its clear explanation of the responsibilities under the National Planning Policy Framework of applicants and planning authorities, but there is also an urgent need for good practice guidance from practitioner bodies, and for correction of some misconceptions about archaeology in the HEF draft.

9. Are there any further points you would like to make in response to the Review Group’s Report? Do you have additional ideas to improve and/or streamline planning practice guidance?

9.1 Any improvement and/or streamlining of planning practice guidance in relation to the historic environment should be undertaken with active involvement of DCMS, English Heritage and other stakeholders in the sector (including ALGAO).

If there is anything further that I can do to assist please do not hesitate to contact me. ALGAO would welcome the opportunity further to engage with Government and other stakeholders in this regard.

Yours sincerely,

Fiona Macdonald
Chair, ALGAO:England

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