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No legislation in favour of listed building agents, says government

The government announced in October that it will not introduce legislation allowing building owners to commission their own agents to advise local authority planning departments rather than using local planning authority (LPA) conservation officers.

This proposal was raised during discussions with heritage stakeholders earlier this year. A number of recommendations were considered that came out of the Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents but did not find their way into the initial consultation. The Enterprise and Reform Bill, now being considered by Parliament, already includes a number of recommendations put forward by the Penfold Review. However, additional suggestions for improvement have also been raised and the government consulted on these during the summer.

One of the suggestions to come out of this consultation was a proposal that independent accredited agents should be able to make expert recommendations to local planning authorities in the exercise of their statutory duty to determine applications. Up to 75% of all Listed Building Consent (LBC) applications in towns and cities are made by an agent on behalf of the property owner/tenant and detailed heritage reports are often submitted to accompany major applications affecting heritage assets. Enabling owners or developers to commission an independent agent to offer an expert report and recommendation to the LPA as part of an LBC application – and effectively ‘certifying ‘ the works as acceptable – could easily be regarded as a logical next step.

The argument in favour of allowing this is that it would not only expand the sources of expert advice available to local authorities but it would also encourage early consideration of heritage issues in the development of proposals. The LPA would continue to administer consultation and notifications and decisions would still be taken following existing governance arrangements.

However, consultation responses were overwhelmingly against this proposal and raised a number of concerns relating to the likely objectivity of accredited agents. Consultees were also concerned about the possible impacts of this approach on local authority conservation provision.

Despite the arguments against the proposal the approach was considered to have some merits, particularly in light of the fact that consultants already play a significant part in the LBC regime and may be able to bring fresh expertise to bear on applications. As a result, although the government has ruled against introducing legislation in favour of independent agents at the present time, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has pledged to seek alternative non-legislative routes to enable LPAs to gain maximum benefit from the expertise on offer from independent accredited agents.

For more information on the consultation and the Penfold Review, go to www.culture.gov.uk

To find out more about LPAs, contact Allen Gilham, associate at Watts Group PLC, on 020 7280 8094.

The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.