Listed buildings, conservation areas and world heritage sites are (amongst scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered parks and gardens and registered battlefields) all designated heritage assets that are subject to the highest levels of protection within the planning system in England. For example, it is a criminal offence to undertake certain works to a listed building without obtaining consent first and can, in extreme cases, result in imprisonment. But, there is another tier of heritage that does not benefit from any formal protection, yet is often treated as being just as important by local planning authorities and communities as part of planning applications; non-designated heritage assets.
During the 20th Century, there was a shift of emphasis at a national level from needing to conserve historic places, to local ‘everyday’ heritage. What constituted heritage started to go beyond the previous, rigid definitions of what could be listed and locally important buildings started to be celebrated.
History of non-designated heritage assets
In 2012, for the first time in England, national policy documents brought local heritage – a departure from the early heritage designation of nationally revered buildings and areas – into the mainstream through the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and associated National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG). The NPPF and NPPG unified the national approach to heritage conservation in a way that previous policy documents had not, by formally recognising non-designated heritage assets (which for some authorities are formalised in a ‘local list’) and in doing so, the government aimed to ensure that planning applications relating to developments affecting heritage assets, designated or not, are made within a full planning context. This national guidance has since trickled down to local plans, with many containing policies that relate to non-designated heritage assets.
What constitutes a non-designated heritage asset is not clearly defined or well documented. The NPPG simply states that they are ‘buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas or landscapes identified by plan-making bodies as having a degree of heritage significance meriting consideration in planning decisions but which do not meet the criteria for designated heritage assets’ – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/conserving-and-enhancing-the-historic-environment#non-designated.
People often do not know they own a non-designated heritage asset until after they’ve submitted a planning application; whilst some local planning authorities contain a list of locally important buildings, many do not, and just by having a list does not mean a building that is not on it cannot be treated as a non-designated heritage asset during the decision-making process. The fact a non-designated heritage building, unless it’s in a designated area or is subject to an Article 4 direction, benefits from a full range of permitted development rights and be demolished without the need for planning permission, only causes further confusion.
The government tells us regularly about how it wants to streamline the planning process, eradicate unnecessary burdens to development and cut red tape. So, how does the need to assess the effect a development has on a non-designated heritage asset, fit within this national agenda? Arguably, it has the opposite effect, as it only results in an additional layer of planning policy to overcome.
There has been an increasing trend over the last decade, both within local planning and appeal decisions, to conserve non-designated heritage assets, particularly where developments involve their demolition. This then begs the question, by placing so much weight on conserving locally important buildings and places, are we diluting the role and importance of national heritage?
Irrespective of the answer, if you are looking to develop a building you may believe to be of some local importance, careful consideration will need to be given to relevant policies and guidance within your planning application.