What is meant by the ‘setting’ of listed buildings, and other heritage assets, in the context of planning legislation designed for its protection?

Steer v SSCLG

The recent heritage case of Steer v SSCLG saw planning permission, for a housing development, quashed when a legal challenge, brought by a local objector, protested that the Inspector’s decision failed to have proper regard to the damaging impact of the appeal site on the setting and significance of heritage assets, comprising a Grade I listed Hall, Park & Gardens owned by the National Trust (Kedleston Hall, in Derbyshire). These assets are given statutory protection under the relevant statute.

The Inspector’s legal error was to take an overly narrow approach to deciding what elements comprised the “setting” of a listed building. He focused solely on the need for a direct visual or physical link, and ignored the wider social, economic and historical connections between the heritage assets and the agricultural lands which formed the wider estate, including the appeal site.

Comment

The court ruling confirms that the planning system gives a wide view of ‘setting’ in relation to the protection of heritage assets, which seems consistent with current advice in the NPPF. It is ultimately a matter of weight to decide what significance to give these issues, but on no view could it be said that the Inspector had correctly approached the question in that way in his Kedleston Hall appeal decision.

It is noteworthy that, in this particular case, Historic England had objected strongly to the development proposals on these specific grounds. Such views will normally carry significant weight, though it still remains to be seen whether this factor will actually tip the balance when the Kedleston Hall appeal comes to be re-determined.

Cynical observers may feel that without this sort of high-level backing this type of objection will be easily ignored. So, perhaps none of this will have much impact on outcomes in future heritage cases. However, in relation to the practice of decision making it does provide another stark lesson in how to deal with material considerations, and how to write a decision letter that is legally watertight. It seems that these lessons are often forgotten.