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Draft Heritage Protection Bill

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2008

I am today laying the draft Heritage Protection Bill and explanatory notes for pre-legislative scrutiny. Copies of the related Impact Assessment are available in the Vote and Printed Paper Offices.

This is a draft Bill for England and Wales, which sets out the legislative framework for a unified and simpler heritage protection system that will be more open, accountable and transparent. The new system will provide more opportunities for public involvement and community engagement in understanding, preserving and managing our heritage. As the Impact Assessment makes clear, the main benefits of the reforms introduced by the Heritage Protection Bill are not best expressed in terms of the financial balance sheet, but are better understood in terms of public value and sustainability. The reforms set out in this Bill will enable us to preserve the historic environment and manage its transition to the future, in the light of both present values and in the interest of future generations.

The draft Bill is based on the proposals set out in the White Paper, “Heritage Protection for the 21st Century” (March 2007), which itself was based on three key 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.

The draft Heritage Protection Bill contains provisions for a single system for national designation (“registration”) of terrestrial heritage assets to replace the listing of buildings, scheduling of monuments and registering of parks, gardens, battlefields and, in Wales, historic landscapes. In England, we will be transferring responsibility for national designation of all these assets to English Heritage; in Wales that responsibility will remain with the Welsh Ministers. There will be new Heritage Registers, one each for England and Wales, containing details of all nationally designated heritage assets, as well as world heritage sites in England and Wales. There will also be formal appeals or review mechanisms for registration decisions, and provisional registration to give “interim protection” to historic assets while they are being considered for registration, as well as wider formal consultation on applications to register.

Alongside this unification of designation, we will be unifying and streamlining the associated consent processes, with the introduction of a new Heritage Asset Consent to replace Listed Building Consent and Scheduled Monument Consent, and the merger of Conservation Area Consent with planning permission. In England, the new Heritage Asset Consent will be administered by local planning authorities, allowing the management of the historic environment to take place at local level; in Wales, the draft Bill will provide flexibility to allow central decision making where appropriate, recognising the different levels of capacity in Wales.

We recognise the need for effective conservation and management of the historic environment at local level to be knowledge-based, and for the records of our historic environment to be available to as many people as possible. This Bill will secure the basis for informed stewardship of the historic environment, within and beyond the planning system, by placing local authorities under a new statutory duty to maintain or have access to an Historic Environment Record (HER). HERs are a comprehensive resource on the local historic environment, containing information on archaeological sites and finds, historic buildings and historic landscapes, complementing and enriching our existing collections of museum, archives and libraries.

In keeping with this drive towards greater accessibility, the new Heritage Registers will also be available online and new records will be simpler, clearer and more detailed.

The draft Bill will also introduce a new statutory framework for voluntary management agreements between the owners of heritage sites and structures and local or other authorities. These agreements will free owners from the need for repetitive consent applications for similar works, reducing the bureaucratic and administrative burdens for owners and local authorities alike, and providing greater certainty on the long-term management of the site.

Striking the balance between flexibility and the need to ensure protection alongside conservation and management characterises our proposals to reform the marine heritage protection system in England and Wales. We have broadened the range of marine historic assets that can be protected, ensuring that there is greater consistency—where appropriate—with the terrestrial system, and brought greater flexibility to the licensing system. As we have done for terrestrial designations, we have also built a formal consultation process into the registration of marine heritage sites and ensured protection for those assets formally being considered for designation.

These reforms will give us a heritage protection system that is open, flexible and accountable. Our heritage is an important source of national and community identity; people recognise its value and work hard, voluntarily and professionally, to ensure its conservation and pass it on. We are increasingly recognising the value of the historic environment in contributing to the Government’s wider agenda in terms of place-making and promoting economic prosperity through regeneration and sustainable use of existing resources. The proposals in the draft Heritage Protection Bill will enable us and future generations to benefit from a thriving, well-managed, sustainable and widely-enjoyed historic environment.

The draft Bill we are publishing today follows long and extensive consultation. We are publishing in draft to generate and benefit from the widest possible debate. If there are proposals for further changes, we will consider them carefully in the light of all the views expressed.