A White Paper that formally protects sites of historical interest such as Stonehenge has completed a lengthy consultation period, and while its main aim is to protect Britain's heritage, it also cuts away much of the red tape attached to renovating abandoned buildings, as Veronica Cowan discovers
Maritime heritage, castles, gardens, churches and archaeological remains, such as Stonehenge, will all be part of the same listing system if the proposals contained in the White Paper Heritage Protection for the 21st century are implemented.
This document, on which consultation ended on 1 June, is the first on the historic environment for a generation, and is the culmination of years of work and research by English Heritage, which will oversee the new regime. The paper is largely focused on reforming the position in England and Wales, but also contains UK-wide proposals for a new system of marine heritage protection, including broadening the range of historic marine assets that can be protected.
"Harbour walls, lighthouses, slipways and historic wrecks will be subsumed into the heritage-protection regime," says Ian Wainwright, group chief surveyor at specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical. Realistic use of heritage buildings is also proposed, notes Douglas Brown, divisional director of the farms and estates division of specialist broker La Playa, who comments: "The problem lies in unused and unoccupied heritage buildings, so anything that can get them back into a decent state for practical use is positive. We also welcome the proposed relaxation of the planning system to allow wider use of the heritage, whether for domestic or commercial use."
In essence, a rationalised, more streamlined and transparent regime is on the cards, with English Heritage demystifying the system by publishing selection criteria. But most insurers don't see any significant impact on business flowing from these changes to the listing system. "Claims costs could be slightly reduced if the system proves to be slicker in terms of less bureaucracy," say both Lee Chapman, senior client manager at Zurich Private Clients and Sebastian Pryke, a risk surveyor on the buildings and heritage side of Hiscox. Calvin Owen, a director of Oak Underwriting, takes a broadly similar view: "While the process is aimed at helping to make the system more open and accountable, I am not sure, at this stage, what ramifications this will have towards the insurance of such properties."
Those buildings representing the cream of the UK's historic and architectural heritage are listed by the Department of Culture Media and Sport under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, on the advice of English Heritage.
There are three grades of listing: Grade I are buildings of exceptional interest; Grade II* are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; and Grade II are of special interest, warranting preservation. Local authorities are required to ensure that such buildings, their setting and any features of special interest are preserved. Work on a listed building without the requisite consent is a criminal offence, and can result in a listed building enforcement notice requiring reinstatement, and/or prosecution, leading to a fine or imprisonment.
Listed building regimes
There are separate regimes for archeological remains and historic maritime sites. If there is a fire or some other catastrophe in a listed building, the current system can pose problems for loss adjusters and insurers dealing with a claim, compounded by possible inconsistency across the country. A more efficient regime would be beneficial, as best practice can change according to which local authority - or, indeed, listed building officer - is involved when repairs are done.
John Kilcourse, a surveyor with Cunningham Lindsey, specialises in listed heritage buildings and worked on Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire, says he would see it as a positive move if English Heritage was the ultimate overseeing authority. He explains that listed building consent is required to get repairs done. "Very often, what the listed buildings people want is different to what the building control department wants." The consequence of this is that it can take up to a year to get approvals in place. Meanwhile, the policyholder cannot live in the property, driving up costs for insurers.
He adds: "English Heritage can be brought in to decide what should happen and can override building control. This can help, so it would be good if there was clarity about who would be ultimately responsible."
Paul Wood, senior account manager at broker RK Harrison, does not predict any specific effects on insurance, but adds: "There is a possibility that it may be more straightforward to get a listed property repaired, but a lot comes down to individual planning officers' interpretation, and some may be more amenable than others."
Mr Owen, however, is more upbeat: "With the reduction in red tape, and applications for works to be made that much easier, it may well help reduce the costs of such works, which are as a result of an insured loss. This, in turn, may help to reduce alternative accommodation costs following a material damage loss, which may subsequently manifest itself in helping to reduce insurance premiums."
At present, if a building is on the list, it means the whole of the building is listed, inside and out (not just the faaade), but Mr Wainwright notes that the new regime would introduce provision for listing part of a building: "This would mean you could alter the parts that are of no consequence, but if the faaade or fireplace is protected, it could not be altered without permission."
But the Country Landowners Association's main concern is what is not in the White Paper. Jonathan Thompson, heritage adviser, warns: "This is a DCMS document, and without substantive involvement from the Department for Communities and Local Government it seems unlikely to resolve the extensive problems in the heritage consent system and especially in local authorities - or, therefore, to be successfully implemented."
- Merging the listed building and scheduled ancient monument regimes;
- Removing the need for conservation-area consent;
- Making demolition and part-demolition works in conservation areas subject to a requirement for planning permission;
- Broadening the range of maritime heritage assets that can be designated;
- Improved records for maritime heritage;
- Interim protection for assets being considered for designation; and
- Consideration of a more flexible consents/licensing regime.
DCMS will no longer make listing decisions - the responsibility for designation will rest with English Heritage.
Decisions will be made more quickly and to agreed targets.
English Heritage will open up the system and consult owners when their property is being considered for designation.
Interim legal protection will be introduced for buildings being proposed for designation - to protect from hasty demolition.
Owners will have a right to appeal against a decision for the first time.
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