Damien Egan 10 February 2020

Give councils greater powers to protect local heritage buildings

From Victorian public houses to traditional shop fronts to art deco buildings, local authorities are home to a diverse mix of heritage assets that make up a central part of communities’ identities.

Lewisham alone is home to over 500 locally listed buildings of unique social, historical and architectural interest dating back as far as the seventeenth century. As this thriving inner London borough continues to grow and develop, it is vital that we preserve these heritage assets so that they can be enjoyed by current and future generations.

However, there have been a number of cases in Lewisham where we have lost locally significant buildings to developers due to a loophole in national planning legislation that limits local authorities’ ability to protect them. This is a challenge faced by councils across the country.

Only buildings that are nationally listed by Historic England are protected from permitted development rights for demolition, as are buildings within a conservation area. This means that if a developer owns a locally listed building or asset of community value and wants to demolish it, they do not require full planning permission from the local authority to do so. They only need to make a prior approval application for the method of demolition, which means the local authority can only consider how it is demolished, not whether it should be demolished at all.

That is why, along with national and local amenity societies, I have written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to strengthen planning protections for locally listed heritage assets and assets of community value.

Currently, if a council wants to remove permitted development rights from heritage assets and therefore require planning permission for demolition it has to introduce an Article 4 Direction. However, an immediate Article 4 Direction is subject to compensation claims from the landowner. This is a legally and financially risky approach for councils that have experienced a decade of budget cuts.

Local authorities are proud of their heritage and historic buildings but national planning legislation must be strengthened if we are to best protect them. Only by extending protections from permitted development rights for demolition to heritage assets and assets of community value, as they did for pubs in 2017, can the Government demonstrate it is truly committed to supporting local communities and championing local identity.

Damien Egan is Mayor of Lewisham

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