In 2010, lobbying by the CLA and others achieved a great improvement in planning policy for heritage in the form of a new heritage planning policy statement PPS5 which formed part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
This in particular was based on conservation - defined as the management of change - of what is significant, rather than on the preservation of everything unchanged. For the first time it took account of proportionality, so that harmless change should, in theory, be approved without detailed and expensive justification.
PPS5 however still contained a number of gaps and lacked a general statement of constructive conservation - the commonsense principle that heritage, being expensive to look after, needs viable uses and sympathetic updating if it is to remain relevant and be valued and maintained in the long term.
There are also some terms such as “substantial harm” and “public benefit” which are not properly explained, giving rise to considerable uncertainty.
The CLA fought hard to have these gaps rectified in the NPPF, but with only partial success. English Heritage seems to view uncertainty as helpful, and its own adopted “constructive conservation” policy as optional. The Government is now considering issuing formal heritage guidance alongside the NPPF, and the CLA Heritage Adviser was invited to join a very small panel advising on this.
While English Heritage is now conceding that uncertainty is – as we predicted – causing problems, it is not at all clear that its position has changed. Whatever the outcome of this exercise, the CLA will continue to fight on until the objective – clear and sensible policy which will safeguard our heritage in the long term by ensuring that it can be used and sympathetically changed where necessary – has been achieved.