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What is Heritage Significance?

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

If you have ever owned a listed building, and wish to make changes to it, you may have been told by your local authority that your property has heritage significance, and that this needs to be assessed as part of any future planning applications. But what exactly is heritage significance and why does it matter?

What does Heritage Significance Mean?

Significance is at the core of the planning policies set out within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). According to the NPPF, significance can be defined as:

‘The value of a heritage asset to this and future generations because of its heritage interest’.

The NPPF defines four types of interests which are considered to contribute to an asset's overall significance including historic, architectural, artistic, and archaeological. These are outlined in more detail below:

1. Historic

Where a heritage asset holds evidence for, or illustrates the importance of, past lives, events, or periods of history, it is considered to be of historic interest. This historic interest may also relate to the age or history of the asset, its development over time, or its layout, function, and form. Generally, historic interest can be either illustrative (ex. demonstrates a historic function) or associative (i.e. association to a well-known architect, historic event, etc.).

2. Architectural

The architectural interest of an asset typically stems from its design or visual qualities. This can arise either from a deliberate design, or from the way the heritage asset has evolved over time. Architectural interest can include construction, craftsmanship, materials, features and decoration of buildings and structures of all types, and can consist of buildings which exemplify the style or movement, or those which simply reference elements of it.

3. Artistic

The artistic interest of an asset is typically derived from the application of human creative skill, such as a carving or sculpture, but can also be derived from intentionally designed landscapes, experiences, and key views which formed part of its original design intention.

4. Archaeological

As defined in the glossary to the National Planning Policy Framework, there will be archaeological interest in a heritage asset if it holds, or potentially holds, evidence of past human activity worthy of expert investigation at some point.

What about a heritage asset's surroundings?

According to the NPPF, the above interest may derive ‘not only from a heritage asset’s physical presence, but also from its setting’. The NPPF defines setting as:

'...the surroundings in which a heritage asset is experienced. Its extent is not fixed and may change as the asset and its surroundings evolve. Elements of a setting may make a positive or negative contribution to the significance of an asset, may affect the ability to appreciate that significance or may be neutral.'

Setting can also include key views of the asset in relation to its wider context. Further information regarding the setting of designated heritage assets can be found in the Historic Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning Note 3 (Second Edition).

What if there are areas that aren't of interest?

When preparing an application, it can also be useful to identify those parts of an asset or its setting that are not considered important, or even detract from the significance of an asset. For example, if a heritage asset has been altered over time and includes unsympathetic additions or ancillary buildings that are incongruous to the character and appearance of the host building, these may diminish its significance. Whether temporary or permanent, these should still be included when assessing the significance of a place.

Similarly, if you have evidence of below-ground disturbance in the grounds of your property (for example, the creation of a swimming pool or an air raid shelter in the garden), this will affect the survival and therefore, the significance of any below-ground archaeological remains. Information like this should be included in a Heritage Statement.

What is a Statement of Significance?

Designed to offer an objective analysis of the significance of a heritage asset, a Statement of Significance comprehensively sets out what matters (and why!) within the building or site that you are looking to develop. By understanding exactly what it is that makes a place significant from a heritage perspective, you are much more easily able to develop plans and proposals that will be sympathetic to that heritage and to spot potential snags and obstacles before you hit them. A Statement of Significance prepared by Blue Willow Heritage also allows developers to put forward proposals to planning officials that are clear and consistent, which often results in feedback that is more likely to be timely and favourable.

How Can Blue Willow Heritage Help?

By choosing Blue Willow Heritage to prepare a Statement of Significance for your project, you are putting that vital work in the safe hands of an experienced and well-trained professional with a deep knowledge of the built environment, heritage, and the planning system. Not only does this mean that the resulting statement is more likely to be viewed favourably by the planning officials, but by aligning with their requirements, it is also less likely to result in delays and more likely to pass smoothly through the system.

A Statement of Significance can be carried out at various stages of the project, and choosing Blue Willow Heritage means that you will receive far more value than just a compliance document at the end. The statement can be used as a thread that informs the development from start to finish, demonstrating understanding of and adherence to NPPF as well as local policies and design guides throughout the project that will identify constraints and opportunities whilst also highlighting your project’s value in terms that planners will understand. The end result is a piece of work that can save you time and money at every step of the process, and can result in a higher quality scheme overall, with a greater chance of achieving planning permission.

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