In May 2008, the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) consulted upon planning reforms to give greater protection to World Heritage Sites (WHSs).

World Heritage Sites

WHSs, inscribed by UNESCO, are described as having ‘outstanding universal value to the whole of humanity [with] cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries’. There are 27 in the UK. They include well known landmarks such as Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge and Kew Gardens.

Although some have protection as listed buildings or scheduled monuments, or because they are in conservation areas, they have no protection simply by virtue of their WHS status.

White Paper

In March 2007, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published ‘Heritage Protection for the 21st Century’ in which far reaching changes to the system for protecting heritage assets were proposed. Specifically for WHSs, it proposed:

  • notification and call-in requirements for any significant development affecting WHSs; and
  • updating planning policy to increase and strengthen the consideration given to WHSs. In particular, publication of a new planning circular was proposed and the inclusion of WHSs as ‘Article 1(5)’ land under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (GPDO), so as to curtail permitted development rights in WHSs.

A Ministerial Statement of 30 June 2008 partly dealt with the first point, saying that the Secretary of State will consider recovery of appeals relating to proposals that would have an adverse impact on the outstanding universal value, integrity, authenticity and significance of a WHS.

Consultation – aims and proposals

The May 2008 CLG consultation dealt with the second point. Its aim was to obtain views on:

  • a new Planning Circular on WHSs;
  • draft guidance from English Heritage (EH) supporting the Circular; and
  • proposed amendments to the meaning of Article 1(5) land, in the GPDO.

New Planning Circular

The consultation states that all Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks should include policies for the protection and sustainable use of WHSs and their settings, complementing guidance from UNESCO and EH. This may include the designation of buffer zones around WHSs to protect their settings and views to or from them. Policies must balance the need to protect WHSs for future generations with the interests of local communities and the ability to achieve sustainable economic growth.

In addition, key stakeholders in a WHS should form a Steering Group to develop a Management Plan, covering all issues relating to the site, including planning. CLG expects these to be material considerations for local authorities when making decisions relating to a WHS.

It is worth noting that in January 2008, the CLG undertook a separate consultation on the review of the Secretary of State’s call-in powers. In that consultation it was proposed that local authorities would be required to refer certain applications relating to WHSs to the Secretary of State, for consideration as to whether they should be called in for determination by the Secretary of State. Relevant applications are those where the local planning authority is minded to grant planning permission for a proposed development but EH have objected on the grounds that it could have an adverse impact on the outstanding universal value, integrity, authenticity and significance of a WHS or its setting, including any Buffer Zone or its equilivant.

English Heritage Guidance This guidance would supplement the proposed new Planning Circular with detail on how policies can be put into effect, particularly Management Plans, and how WHSs should be managed for sustainable development.

Article 1(5) land

The consultation paper proposes that the GPDO should to be amended to include WHSs within the definition of Article 1(5) land along with Conservation Areas, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They will curtail some permitted development rights in WHSs.

Progress since closure of the consultation

The consultation closed on 22 August 2008, and a summary of responses is to be published by the end of November. Since 1 October 2008 all 17 English World Heritage Sites have been included in the scope of Article 1(5) land specified in Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the GPDO.

Should all the proposals be implemented, there will be increased protection for WHSs but at a cost to developers as planning applications will need to be made for development previously allowed under the GPDO. The number of applications is estimated by EH to be low (between 10 and 100 annually), as eight WHSs in England are already wholly within Article 1(5) land, and others partly. The greatest effect is expected to be seen in the City of Bath and the Cornish and West Devon Mining Landscape.