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Heritage Protection

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

I am today publishing a White Paper on the future of the Heritage Protection System entitled “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century”.

The paper sets out a vision of a unified and simpler heritage protection system, which will have more opportunities for public involvement and community engagement. The proposed system will be more open, accountable and transparent. It will offer all those with an interest in the historic environment a clearer record of what is protected and why; it will enable people who own or manage historic buildings and sites to have a better understanding of what features are important; it will streamline the consent procedures and create a more consultative and collaborative protection system.

Developing this White Paper has also been a collaborative process and its content reflects the huge contribution of stakeholders and of colleagues across Government and the devolved administrations. Together we have produced what I believe are a number of much needed and practical proposals that will transform the current heritage protection system, making it simpler, more flexible, more transparent and more accountable. They will enable our historic assets to be better understood and managed, while still continuing to protect them, now and for the future.

This is a White Paper for England and Wales with some UK-wide elements. The first part sets out legislative change and implementation arrangements for England; the second covers implementation arrangements in Wales; and the third part covers legislative change affecting the marine historic environment across the United Kingdom.

The proposals in “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century” are based on three core principles: the need to develop a unified approach to the historic environment; maximising opportunities for inclusion and involvement; and supporting sustainable communities by putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system.

A unified approach

The current heritage protection systems in England and Wales have different designation regimes for various aspects of the historic environment, and many decisions continue to be taken in Whitehall. As a consequence, the regime we have today is complicated and hard for the layman to understand. It can be bureaucratic and burdensome.

We therefore propose a single system for national designation to replace the listing of buildings, scheduling of monuments and registering of parks, gardens and battlefields. Responsibility for national designation of all these assets in England will rest with English Heritage. All national designation decisions will be made on the basis of special architectural, historic or archaeological interest, and those decisions will be made easier to understand through the production of detailed selection criteria for national and local designation. World Heritage Sites will be included in the unified register and their outstanding universal value recognised.

Inclusion and Involvement

We recognise the need to improve the process of designating historic assets by involving the public in deciding what is protected and how. In order to do this we must have a system that is open, accessible and efficient. That is why we will create new Registers of Historic Buildings and Sites of England and Wales to replace existing lists and schedules, and introduce simpler and clearer designation records that will be available to the public online. We will also open up the system by introducing new or improved consultation and appeal processes, and ensure assets are protected when decisions are being made by introducing interim protection.

Integration and efficiency

Heritage protection is an integral part of the planning process and in this paper we set out our vision of how we can support sustainable communities by putting the historic environment at the heart of an effective planning system, and devolving greater responsibility to local planning authorities so they can manage the historic environment alongside other planning responsibilities.

Alongside a single national designation system, we will join up and streamline the consent process and consult on the scope to reduce uncertainty and ensure early consideration of heritage issues through a greater role for pre-application discussion. In order to reduce application burdens and build flexibility into the system we will also introduce new statutory management agreements for more complex historic sites.

We will underpin any new legislation with new policy guidance, and work with English Heritage to implement a new programme of training, support and capacity-building for English local authorities and local heritage organisations. We will also improve access to information about the historic environment by introducing a statutory duty for local authorities to maintain or have access to historic environment records.

The Marine Environment

In the 21st century, demands on the UK’s marine environment, which includes some of our most important historic assets, are growing. In order to ensure that this element of our heritage is protected and managed appropriately, we will develop a UK-wide marine heritage protection system, which provides appropriate protection for assets, is simple and clear, and delivers designation decisions quickly.

Accordingly, we will review the range of marine heritage that can be protected and increase protection for some assets; we will improve the designation regime and the information available about marine historic assets; and we will consider the scope for a new, more flexible, marine consents regime, including provision for voluntary management agreements.

Britain’s heritage is an important source of national and community identity. People recognise the importance and value of the historic environment, they are passionate about its preservation and are increasingly involved in celebrating the wealth of historic assets that surround them. The proposals in this White Paper reflect the fundamental role of the historic environment in shaping our towns, cities and landscapes and providing people and communities with a sense of identity and place.