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“Significant” changes to listed building consent afoot

There’s some pretty major planning changes on the way in 2014 for anyone with an interest in developing or buying listed buildings. Print PDF...

There’s some pretty major planning changes on the way in 2014 for anyone with an interest in developing or buying listed buildings.

The Government is gearing up for the next round of heritage planning reform (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced a consultation on this last month), with significant modifications designed to streamline the notoriously labyrinthine planning process coming into force on April 6th.

According to the Listed Property Owners Club – a pretty solid source of information on this kind of thing – the changes will offer owners and occupiers of these type of buildings, or developers taking on listed buildings as part of development proposals, “the opportunity to be more forward-thinking and to take greater control over planning the future of their assets”.

What’s more, the LPO says, “they should allow for greater clarity over the works that require listed building consent (LBC), a more proportionate approach to obtaining consent for works to listed buildings, and help local planning authorities (LPAs) to deliver an improved service”.

A few of the changes have already been put into place; new detailed listing descriptions have been issued, you can now apply for certificates of immunity from listing at any time, and the requirement for separate conservation area consent was canned at the beginning of October.

The LPO has helpfully asked planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners for a summary of the three major new features we’ll be seeing come April. Here ’tis:

 1. Heritage Partnership Agreements 

The statutory footing for Heritage Partnership Agreements (HPAs) – voluntary agreements between the owner of a listed building and the local authority (and any other relevant interest) – will allow consent to be granted outside the normal LBC process for specified works for the alteration and extension of a building (excluding demolition). This type of HPA will be known as a ‘Listed Building HPA’, with new rules governing preparation that closely resemble those for applying for LBC. HPAs can also set out the works that would or would not affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest – the latter being those works that would not then require LBC. Going beyond this, HPAs may also provide an all-encompassing management plan for a listed building, with agreed provisions relating to longer term maintenance and preservation works, arrangements for public access (or access restrictions), and plans for associated facilities or services. This type of HPA would not be governed by specific rules for preparation.

In practice, HPAs have the potential to provide a clearer framework for planning and carrying out works to a listed building over the long term, by combining a management plan with what could essentially operate as an on-going LBC for specified works (based on an assessment of what is of architectural or historic significance). These Agreements could therefore be a powerful tool in the management of larger and more complex listed buildings and campuses that are in modern commercial use, such as institutions (hospitals, schools etc.), shopping centres or large office buildings. When combined with a revised statutory listing, these mechanisms could create a  framework for owners to both carry out “predictable and repetitive” works, and to be able to adapt their buildings quickly in response to commercial needs – and without unnecessary recourse to the LPA. This clearly has time and resource benefits for all interested parties.

2. Listed Building Consent Orders

The Act and the proposed Regulations introduce new powers for LPAs to put in place local ‘Listed Building Consent Orders’ (LBCOs), granting LBC automatically for certain categories of work or buildings, without the need for separate LBC. The consultation also sets out the proposed process for National LBCOs.

The intention is to reduce the number of LBC applications that are required, especially where works will have no, or very limited impact on a listed building or buildings.

Whilst the scope of any national LBCO in future is expected to cover groups of nationally distributed listed buildings, local LBCOs have greater potential to exempt certain works within a defined area or a defined group of buildings – i.e. where the special interest of that group of buildings is well-understood – from the requirement for LBC. Such works could include, for example, internal works for the maintenance, upkeep or refurbishment of a group of properties where their interest principally relates to the external character and appearance. Local LBCOs are designed in a similar way to local development orders that grant general planning permission in defined areas, adapted to suit the differing requirements of the LBC regime.

Overall, LBCOs could ease the process for guardians of listed buildings in ensuring the upkeep and adaptation of their assets. However, this requires action on the part of LPAs to relinquish some of the controls afforded to them by the current heritage consent regime and so it will be interesting to see the extent of uptake of these new measures.

3. Certificates of Lawfulness of Proposed Works

Based on certificates of lawfulness in the planning system, the introduction of a certificate of lawfulness of proposed works to listed buildings will provide a mechanism for LPAs to confirm formally that LBC is not required where proposed works would not impact on a building’s special interest. Lasting for ten years on issue, the new certificate offers a simpler and faster process for seeking formal confirmation of whether or not LBC is required (excluding demolition) within a 6 week determination period. This avoids the submission of unnecessary LBC applications and, more importantly, the risk of committing a criminal offence by carrying out works which are unlawful by means of a formal procedure.

Consultation on the details of the reforms ends on 27th January
More on the LPO here

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