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Listed Buildings

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2008

Government policy on planning and the historic environment is set out in planning policy guidance note 15, which highlights the need for effective protection of the historic environment, including listed buildings, as a central part of our cultural heritage and sense of national identity. Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will publish the first heritage protection Bill in 30 years. It will give listed buildings greater protection, encourage greater public involvement in decisions and create a single, unified heritage protection regime.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer. Is she aware that sites such as High Down on the West Wight currently have protection by dint of being sites of special scientific interest, but are not listed? What extra protection, for instance, would the listing of the structure at High Down—a quarter of a mile long concrete ramp for rockets—bring to the site?

I scratched my head when I saw the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought that he might ask about Osborne house or any of the 1,900 listed buildings on the Isle of Wight; the island has more than its fair share of beautiful buildings. Clearly, the listed building regime is a key consideration in planning applications, and PPG15 says that local authorities must have particular regard to where there are listed buildings. Clearly, there is a process to undergo for areas that are not listed. As I said, tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will publish a draft Bill that will seek to improve the process for listing areas. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will take a great interest in that.

A large number of the listed buildings in my area have thatched roofs. That poses real problems for owners, not only because of the cost of replacing a roof but because there is a shortage of the appropriate cereal straw to do it. Will the right hon. Lady issue guidance to stop the inflexibility of many planners, who require an absolute like-for-like replacement of thatches instead of using the available material, which is visually impossible to distinguish from the original?

Goodness, it is amazing what one learns in the Chamber; certainly, I have learned something today. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring that the planning system retains its flexibility but at the same time seeks to protect the cultural and architectural heritage that is so important in this country. I think he will agree that getting the balance right is important. I had no idea that there were different colours of thatch, or perhaps different shades of thatching; I am now better informed, and I will look into it myself.