Statements of Heritage Significance - an advice note from Historic England
In October 2019, Historic England (HE) published an advice note, which provides guidance on the assessment of heritage assets. In Bidwells' latest planning alert, Chris Surfleet and Steven Handforth sets out the advice note's key points and how this affects the decision-making process relating to heritage assets.
The guidance stresses the importance of making sure that the significance of a heritage asset is understood in advance of the design process, and explains how front-loading this understanding of listed buildings or Conservation Areas, for example, can bring better value responses during pre-application discussions with planning authorities and deliver better quality outcomes, “reducing both abortive work and delays”.
Whilst promoting the importance of assessing, HE also stresses the relevance of research being proportionate and “no more than is necessary to reach an informed decision” in terms of understanding the asset and the impact likely to be applied to it. This is helpful in managing expectations of significance-assessment and, as Historic England puts it, why they want to understand “what matters and why”.
In addition to the relevance of significance-assessment in relation to development proposals, HE draws attention to the relevance for development plan preparation, including site allocations and matters relating to archaeology.
It recommends a staged approach for decision-making in relation to heritage assets including the potential for better revealing or enhancing significance. Sometimes the potential for this will not be known unless a Significance Assessment has been undertaken and the building/place is really understood. HE provides recommended sources for undertaking research and a sample structure for Significance Assessment documents.
HE’s advice aligns with the approach already adopted by Bidwells. The build up of evidence, alongside feasibility and pre-application stages, is proven to flush out potential project risks and also to inform design opportunities. Bidwells refers to this as the ‘research-design-assessment’ process, whereby the understanding of the heritage considerations at the outset helps to inform and minimise conflicts later in the process when the final assessments of impact are made.