Government announce consultation on changes to Listed Building Consent regime

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport have announced a four week consultation on proposed changes to simplify and improve the Listed Building Consent regime.

Firstly, the consultation presents two alternative options for consideration, aimed at reducing the circumstances in which Listed Building Consent (LBC) is required. The first proposal is to introduce a ‘prior notification’ procedure for minor works which are considered to have ‘little or no harm to the special interest of the listed building’ or ‘some harm which is clearly justified in the interests of conserving the building in its optimum viable use’. It is suggested that such works could be defined nationally, or to allow greater flexibility, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) could make the judgement on a case by case basis. The LPA would be given 28 days in which to confirm that the proposed works are acceptable or alternatively require the submission of a full application for listed building consent. An alternative option being proposed is to introduce a change in legislation that would allow LPAs to grant ‘class consents’ for certain defined works to listed buildings within a defined area or of a defined type. This approach would allow LPAs to grant advance consent to a range of works which would have minor or acceptable impacts on the special interest of known categories of listed buildings within a local authority area. Whilst this ‘localist’ approach may be appealing to some local authorities, the amount of work required, for example in surveying each individual building, may make such an approach resource intensive to introduce.

The consultation also proposes the introduction of a ‘Certificate of Lawful Works’, a formal mechanism for confirming that works did not require Listed Building Consent because they did not ‘affect its character or special interest’. Whilst LBC is only required for works which are judged to affect the ‘character and special interest’ of a listed building, it is claimed that local authorities are often reluctant to make the judgement as to whether proposed works actually require consent or not and so applications are often submitted for minor works which should not actually require consent. The proposed certificates would introduce a formal mechanism for local authorities to consider such works and give certainty to owners and developers. Similarly to Lawful Development Certificates for planning permission, the certificates could also be sought retrospectively to confirm works did not need consent, useful in confirming the legality of previous works in the sale of properties etc.

Perhaps the most controversial proposal, is the introduction of a system which allows independent, accredited agents to make expert recommendations to LPAs, effectively ‘certifying’ works to heritage assets as acceptable. The LPA would still make the final decision on granting consent, the consultation document states that “The LPA would normally be expected to follow this recommendation”. This is seen as a natural progression from the work agents already do in preparing ‘heritage assessments’ on the significance of assets and proposed works. Advantages to this system are considered to be the certainty it would give applicants, early in the development of proposals, as to whether the scheme is going to be acceptable from a heritage point of view. It is also considered it would reduce the burden of work on the LPA, at a time when budget cuts have seen the level of conservation expertise in local authorities reduce significantly over the last few years.

Finally, the consultation raises the question of possible reforms to the measures available to Local Authorities for dealing with buildings at risk. It claims the current system is difficult to administer and as such local authorities are often reluctant to take enforcement action to deal with neglected buildings. With over half of buildings on the original 1999 Heritage at Risk Register still remaining on the register it is looking for suggestions on delivering substantive improvements to the system.

The consultation runs for 4 weeks from 26th July to 23rd August 2012. Rural Solutions will follow its progress with interest; check back for future blogs.

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