The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Planning reform–should we be worried?

The end of November brought two central Government documents which both underline the Government’s commitment to make changes to the planning process—changes that the conservation sector is worried about.   These documents are the Implementation of the Penfold Review, and the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.  The former follows on from the Penfold Review – (which was set up to gather evidence to assess the role that non-planning consents play in investment decisions, and to propose ways to address any identified barriers to investment—it reported in July 2010), the latter replaces what was called the pre-Budget report during the Labour government’s time in office, and sets out the Government’s agenda for coming months (it refers to the Penfold document).    

 They can be read in full online (see below)and follow on from the worrying changes which the Localism Act (passed and the National Planning Policy Framework (currently still in highly criticised draft form) have heralded.

The Implementation of the Penfold Review aims to do the following:

Scrap unnecessary development consents and simplify others;

Reform the remits and working practices of the public bodies granting or advising on development consents;

Set a clear timescale for deciding development consent applications; and

Make it easier to apply for development consents.

All of which appear to be driven by the premise that planning consents are a hassle for developers who deserve an easier ride, rather than seeing the planning process as a carefully nuanced way for society to make complex decisions which impact on many groups of people in the most balanced and fair way.  In my view weighing cultural value and individual rights against development benefits for both developers and communities is never going to be as simple as the Government seems to think it should be.  However, the current question for C20 Society is do these two documents propose anything that will undermine the conservation of C20 buildings?

The most important points are:

1.         The Government wants to limit the extent of a listed building’s special interest– so only those parts of a building specified in its list entry are protected

2.         The Government wants to reduce the need for owners or developers to make repeated applications for Listed Building Consent by allowing owners of complex or frequently-changing buildings listed buildings to enter into Statutory Management Agreements to enable works to be undertaken without the need for separate applications.

3. The Government want to abolish the requirement for Conservation Area Consent for demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas.  

My thoughts on these points are as follows:

1.  to go back through all the list entries and do the research necessary to make this work is a huge amount of work, and will require getting access to the interiors of buildings.   It will also mean that any features currently covered up will not be protected—probably not a big concern for us, but a real issue for complex multi-period buildings (for instance, where a timber frame may have been totally concealed by a later brick facade).  We are told that the revised listing programme will start with C20th office buildings, which is fine, as long as the work is done in a rigorous and well informed way.   Of course at the moment listed building consent is only needed where the works concerned will “effect the special architectural or historic interest of the building” anyway.  The problem with implementing this is that local authority conservation officers often lack the expertise or the confidence to determine what could be excluded, and frequently do not have the time to make an initial assessment visit—maybe it would be better to give them more resources rather than do the listing review. 

2. Statutory Management Agreements have long been touted as the way to make post war housing estates etc less daunting to list.    Making these work will require primary legislation (it was in the abandoned Heritage Protection Bill), and our concerns are that they will potentially cut out the need to pull in the expertise of the National Amenity Societies – they will also be expensive to draw up and keep up to date. 

3. In theory the requirement for planning permission for demolition in conservation areas will be sufficient safeguard for the abolition of conservation area consent.  However, if as a result judgement rests with a planning officer rather than a conservation specialist, it seems likely that mistakes will be made.   We know that we often get to hear of buildings that we then put forward for listing via this route, so it could well have an impact on us.  

We will be discussing these issues at the meeting of the JOINT COMMITTE OF NATIONAL AMENITY SOCIETIES this week, and lobbying shortly.


Catherine Croft


Here are the links to the documents:


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