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All You Need to Know About Planning Policy

The world of planning policy can be a bit of a minefield, especially as it relates to heritage. With so many guidance documents and emerging local plans, it can be difficult to pick out which policies your scheme will be measured against when it comes to assessing its suitability for planning. To help you navigate the choppy waters of the planning process, take a look at our handy little guide below.

Local vs. National Policy: Which Takes Precedence?

Under planning law, the determination of an application is in the first instance made with reference to the policies of the local development plan which takes precedence over national policy. Oftentimes, a local authority has an existing local plan and an emerging local plan, which has not yet been adopted. In these cases, unless otherwise stated, applications are determined on the basis of the saved policies of the existing local plan until the emerging local plan has been formally adopted.

On the off chance that there are no relevant policies within the existing local plan relating to heritage, then it reverts to national policy – in this case, the National Planning Policy Framework (MHCLG 2021). In particular, paragraphs 194-208 relate to heritage and provide detailed policies relating to proposals relating to both designated and non-designated heritage assets.

National Planning Policy Framework

If you fancy a bit of ‘light reading’, then NPPF isn’t the document for you but if you own or are looking to purchase, alter, or develop a historic building or site, then it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the relevant national policies. Still not quite clear on what they mean in practice? We’ve broken them down for you below.


Glossary of Terms

  • Conservation: The process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and, where appropriate, enhances its significance.

  • Designated heritage asset: A World Heritage Site, Scheduled Monument, Listed Building, Protected Wreck Site, Registered Park and Garden, Registered Battlefield or Conservation Area designated under the relevant legislation.

  • Non-designated heritage asset: A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest, but which does not meet the criteria for designated heritage assets.

  • Historic environment record: Information services that seek to provide access to comprehensive and dynamic resources relating to the historic environment of a defined geographic area for public benefit and use.

  • Significance: The value of a heritage asset to this and future generations because of its heritage interest. The interest may be archaeological, architectural, artistic or historic. Significance derives not only from a heritage asset’s physical presence, but also from its setting.

*Policies considered to be self-explanatory

194. In determining applications, local planning authorities should require an applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting. The level of detail should be proportionate to the assets’ importance and no more than is sufficient to understand the potential impact of the proposal on their significance. As a minimum the relevant historic environment record should have been consulted and the heritage assets assessed using appropriate expertise where necessary. Where a site on which development is proposed includes, or has the potential to include, heritage assets with archaeological interest, local planning authorities should require developers to submit an appropriate desk-based assessment and, where necessary, a field evaluation.

Paragraph 194 of NPPF basically outlines that in order for a local authority to make an informed decision on a planning application which has the potential to impact a heritage asset, its significance must first be understood. The best way to achieve this is to commission a Heritage Statement or Heritage Impact Assessment, which includes the required Historic Environment Record (HER) search to make it compliant with national policy. Sites with the potential for archaeological impact should have a Desk-Based Assessment commissioned, which will do the same, but also look at the potential for below-ground archaeological features to survive.

195. Local planning authorities should identify and assess the particular significance of any heritage asset that may be affected by a proposal (including by development affecting the setting of a heritage asset) taking account of the available evidence and any necessary expertise. They should take this into account when considering the impact of a proposal on a heritage asset, to avoid or minimise any conflict between the heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal.

Similar to the above, Paragraph 195 emphasizes how important it is for local planning authorities to understand the significance of a heritage asset as well as how this significance will be impacted as a result of any proposed scheme of development. A Heritage Impact Assessment bridges this gap and covers both bases, ensuring the planners and conservation officers have enough information upon which to base their decision.

196. Where there is evidence of deliberate neglect of, or damage to, a heritage asset, the deteriorated state of the heritage asset should not be taken into account in any decision.

Paragraph 196 essentially means that just because a heritage asset is in a poor state of repair does not give an applicant free reign to do whatever they want in terms of a proposed development and that all due care to its conservation must still be given when it comes to making a planning decision.

*197. In determining applications, local planning authorities should take account of: a) the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets and putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation; b) the positive contribution that conservation of heritage assets can make to sustainable communities including their economic vitality; and c) the desirability of new development making a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness.
198. In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque, memorial or monument (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.

A recent addition to NPPF, Paragraph 198 relates to the recent controversy surrounding the removal of historic statues and monuments throughout the UK and beyond on social, political, and religious grounds. Rather than remove them and lose their significance altogether, this policy argues that they should be appropriately placed into their context – whether positive or negative – and retained.

199. When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). This is irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance.

At its basic level, Paragraph 199 is stating that the overall conservation of a designated heritage asset, such as a listed building, should be taken into consideration when assessing the impact of a scheme upon its significance. This is because the overarching aim of heritage policies within NPPF is not to hinder development, but encourage sustainable development and re-use of historic buildings and sites, where appropriate, so that they remain in use and do not fall into disrepair.

*200. Any harm to, or loss of, the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting), should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of: a) grade II listed buildings, or grade II registered parks or gardens, should be exceptional; b) assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.
201. Where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm to (or total loss of significance of a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or total loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss, or all of the following apply: a) the nature of the heritage asset prevents all reasonable uses of the site; and b) no viable use of the heritage asset itself can be found in the medium term through appropriate marketing that will enable its conservation; and c) conservation by grant-funding or some form of not for profit, charitable or public ownership is demonstrably not possible; and d) the harm or loss is outweighed by the benefit of bringing the site back into use.

In the case of Paragraph 201, although it is very rare that substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset (much less its total loss!) can be justified, there are instances in which a planning argument can be made. However, this is not usually done on heritage grounds and the public benefits would need to be of such a scale that would merit this level of impact.

202. Where a development proposal will lead to less than substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset, this harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal including, where appropriate, securing its optimum viable use.

If a proposed development is considered to result in less than substantial harm, then it triggers the ‘test’ contained within Paragraph 202 and the applicant must demonstrate that the public benefits of the proposal outweigh the level of harm to the significance of the asset resulting from the scheme. If no obvious public benefits are present, then securing its optimum viable use – such as in the case of a derelict building – can also be used to argue in favour of the scheme.

203. The effect of an application on the significance of a non-designated heritage asset should be taken into account in determining the application. In weighing non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest, which are demonstrably of equivalent significance to scheduled monuments, should be considered subject to the policies for designated heritage assets. In weighing applications that directly or indirectly affect non-designated heritage assets, a balanced judgement will be required having regard to the scale of any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset.

Paragraph 203 relates to proposals effecting the significance of non-designated heritage assets, both archaeological and above-ground built heritage. Whilst most of it is self-explanatory, it is important to note that in some cases, a non-designated heritage asset can be afforded the same protection as a designated asset. With regards to the last sentence of this policy, the best way to determine ‘a balanced judgement’ is by commissioning a detailed Heritage Impact Assessment, which will identify and assess the significance of the heritage asset as existing as well as the scale of any harm or loss resulting from the proposed development, thereby facilitating an informed planning decision.

204. Local planning authorities should not permit the loss of the whole or part of a heritage asset without taking all reasonable steps to ensure the new development will proceed after the loss has occurred.

Paragraph 204 was introduced in order to ensure that heritage assets are not lost or removed in vain and that the justification behind their loss, i.e. the proposed new development, is actually carried out.

205. Local planning authorities should require developers to record and advance understanding of the significance of any heritage assets to be lost (wholly or in part) in a manner proportionate to their importance and the impact, and to make this evidence (and any archive generated) publicly accessible. However, the ability to record evidence of our past should not be a factor in deciding whether such loss should be permitted.

One of the most common planning conditions placed on schemes relating to historic buildings is a Historic Building Recording, the purpose of which is to create a permanent record of any features to be lost prior to the commencement of works. Paragraph 205 is stating that the availability of this condition and the ability to create such a record, thereby the ability to mitigate some of the overall impact upon its significance, should not be used to justify approval across the board for schemes which will result in harm or loss to significance of any given heritage asset.

206. Local planning authorities should look for opportunities for new development within Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites, and within the setting of heritage assets, to enhance or better reveal their significance. Proposals that preserve those elements of the setting that make a positive contribution to the asset (or which better reveal its significance) should be treated favourably.

Paragraph 206 states that far from discouraging development within and around sensitive heritage assets, local planning authorities should look favourably upon those schemes which have carefully considered the constraints and opportunities within a given site, creating a proposed development which responds to them sensitively and creatively. The right development scheme can often improve the overall character, appearance, and setting of a heritage asset, making an overall positive impact upon its significance. Creating such a scheme is best achieved by commissioning an experienced heritage professional early on who can help you understand the significance of your site or building, provide ongoing design advice, and put together a strong Heritage Impact Assessment – all the more likely to achieve a successful result.

*207. Not all elements of a Conservation Area or World Heritage Site will necessarily contribute to its significance. Loss of a building (or other element) which makes a positive contribution to the significance of the Conservation Area or World Heritage Site should be treated either as substantial harm under paragraph 201 or less than substantial harm under paragraph 202, as appropriate, taking into account the relative significance of the element affected and its contribution to the significance of the Conservation Area or World Heritage Site as a whole.
*208. Local planning authorities should assess whether the benefits of a proposal for enabling development, which would otherwise conflict with planning policies but which would secure the future conservation of a heritage asset, outweigh the disbenefits of departing from those policies.

We hope you’ve enjoyed dipping your toes into the wonderful world of planning policy and if you’d like someone to guide you along your own planning journey, then contact Blue Willow Heritage for a free, no obligation chat about your project and how we can help.

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