Green Balance works for the conservation and enhancement of our built heritage. Our work ranges from research into the best approaches to heritage conservation through to hands-on efforts to save individual historic buildings.
In 2018 Historic England published a key research report by Green Balance on Heritage in Planning Decisions. This reviewed how the National Planning Policy Framework's heritage policies from 2012 had been applied in practice, both by developers and local authorities. Based on a review of one planning application in almost every lower-tier local authority, 25 detailed case studies of applications and 10 of appeals, the results were shocking.
About two thirds of applicants met the minimum NPPF requirements, but only about one third of local authority case officers fully identified the impact of proposals on the significance of designated heritage assets and another one thrid did so partially. Only about a quarter of case officers were assessed as having given 'great weight' to designated heritage in their recommendations. To try to raise standards, the report provided a checklist of specific actions which parties needed to take to comply with the NPPF. It also recommended actions which the Government and local planning authorities needed to take strategically to secure better implementation of NPPF policies.
The 'designated heritage assets' studied for Historic England were listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields, and the settings of all of these. A further report on the experience of protecting conservation areas has been commissioned by the National Trust with Historic England support and is in press.
Green Balance has researched the ownership of public sector heritage properties and the scale and effect of their disposal. An initial report for the National Trust examined the scale of the burden which might be placed on the voluntary sector arising from such disposals.
The report was warmly welcomed in a Country Life editorial ‘Selling off or selling out?” on December 14, 2006: “…the National Trust is to be commended for commissioning a hard-hitting report from Green Balance on The Disposal of Heritage Assets by Public Bodies….”.
English Heritage then published our substantial review (with Grover Lewis Associates Ltd) of Local Authority Heritage Assets: current issues and opportunities (2012), based on interviews with numerous heritage conservation officers, national heritage bodies and elected portfolio holders responsible for heritage, plus extensive questionnaires to local authority asset managers, to heritage professionals and to actual and prospective new owners. A paper summarising the findings relevant to Building Preservation Trusts was presented to the Annual Conference of the UK Association of Preservation Trusts in October 2012.
We have investigated The Potential of Conservation Covenants for the National Trust (2008), evaluating alternatives to outright land acquisition as a means of achieving conservation. This included international comparisons.
Green Balance has recently provided English Heritage with a valuable database Listed Building Consents: A Review of Data , which gives a statistically robust insight into LBC applications decided in 2011-14. Extensive information is provided on 936 sampled applications, which are evenly distributed between regions, between urban and rural authorities, between local authorities charging and not charging for pre-application advice, and in the periods either side of a change in the law which reinstated V.A.T. on approved works to listed buildings in October 2012.
We have assisted the National Trust’s responses to new railway infrastructure proposals. In 1994 we advised on the impact of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (‘High Speed 1’) on Trust properties through Kent and East London. Then in 2010 we highlighted in detail the damaging effect which High Speed 2 would have notably on the Trust-controlled Hartwell House near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire – a Grade 1 listed Jacobean house with a fine landscaped park in the picturesque style.
We have worked with local groups to save various historic buildings, notably a large Victorian house and grounds in Tonbridge (See case study).
Properties in a listed Georgian crescent in Greenwich (Gloucester Circus) were threatened with unsympathetic extension and conversion to flats by Greenwich London Borough Council (Property Section). Working with local residents, Green Balance secured both an overturning by Councillors of the Planning Officers’ recommendation of approval, and subsequently the appropriate change of the existing properties to two town houses.
Green Balance submitted a response to the DCMS consultation in July 2012 on ‘Improving Listed Building Consent’ (LBC). The proposals aimed to reduce the alleged burden on developers from LBC procedures by reducing the circumstances in which consent is required and reducing the level of information applicants must submit. The aspiration was that specialist conservation staff could focus on higher risk issues (though we advised that the loss of staff was more likely). The Government subsequently decided not to pursue two of its four options which we, like English Heritage and many others, had opposed (for ‘prior notification’ of development instead of an application, and for accredited agents to evaluate proposals instead of local authority conservation officers). We supported the Government’s intention to introduce a ‘Certificate of Lawful Works’ to listed buildings without the need for a full application for LBC, but suggested provisos. The Government has now legislated in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 both for this and for its proposed national and local class consents. Class consents will allow specified changes to defined types of listed buildings always to be acceptable without the need for specific listed building consent. We described class consents as ‘particularly foolhardy’ and likely to be overwhelmed by practical and heritage problems. An enormous bureaucratic endeavour will be required before a single LBC application is avoided. We aim to monitor experience with this initiative.
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Green Balance saved North Frith House More »