So the National Planning Policy Framework has been released.
Because there is so much commentary available at the moment (just see Andrew Lainton’s furious posting over the past 24 hours) I’m going to focus my attention on the implications of the document on heritage interests and archaeology.
To start, here are some of the heritage body’s responses:
We can see some recurring themes:
- An overall satisfaction: There’s a definite improvement in tone, and this is universally recognised. The mention that heritage assets get in the core principles is a big factor in upping the perceived importance of the historic environment as an integral part of the planning process.
- Historic Environment Records: A priority concern for heritage bodies currently, and the Framework puts minds at ease by appearing to make it difficult for local authorities to follow through with plans to drop their HERs entirely. However, a restatement of HER principles from DCMS or English Heritage should be pushed for in the following weeks or months is desirable to really hammer home the implication.
- Non-designated assets: Non-designated assets are largely ignored in the final document, which reduces somewhat the standard of protections that existed under PPS5. And whilst the ‘intrinsic value’ of non-designated countryside was recognised in the text, heritage assets or valued places of community value were not explicitly recognised.
- Loss of key heritage objectives: To contribute to ‘knowledge and understanding’ was one of the key principles of PPS5 and retained its place in the historic environment chapter of the draft. It is absent from the final document. This seems a peculiar thing to have lost and potentially highly significant in the light of change working practices that archaeological practitioners have begun to engage with in the last two years (or more). It may change little, but not having the objective explicitly outlined is disappointing.
- Forthcoming Historic Environment practice guidelines: There is now a sense of urgency among historic environment professional bodies to get the government to officially approve a sectoral practice guide that will formally back-up policies in the NPPF. The Historic Environment Forum has a draft, which they are sitting on, waiting for a moment to present it to DCLG and DCMS, and it is important that they keep up pressure in lobbying for this.
Going forward, the main thing is to keep trying to influence the production of local and neighbourhood plans, which will have a significant ability to define particular heritage policies which could more explicitly follow the example set by PPS5. English Heritage will need to take a lead role as statutory advisor to LPAs on heritage matters, and the other historic environment NGOs will also have to ensure that plans for advising and guiding LPAs are in place so that no local or neighbourhood plan is allowed to drop concerns for their heritage. The next 12 months then will be just as critical as the last 12 for the heritage within the planning system.