Provisions in NPPF 2 published on the 24 July 2018, in relation to the conservation and enhancement of the historic environment are not a significant departure from the original NPPF issued in 2012.
They do, however, contain a number of matters of importance, over and above the cosmetic changes to paragraph numbers from the original NPPF 1 text, which are always a source of frustration for practitioners.
Small but important changes are made to Paragraph 193, for example. This replaces the original NPPF 1 Paragraph 132 and expands the policy wording to incorporate judicial guidance on its application and interpretation. Therefore, when considering the impact of development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, it is made clear that "great weight should be given to the asset's conservation."
In these circumstances, the guidance makes it clear that the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be. This is all irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm.
This reiterates and makes clear the position that when considering the impact of development, great weight should be given to the asset's conservation regardless of the degree of harm that will be involved.
In this regard, the importance of the asset (and therefore the weight to be attributed to it), will be a likely source of debate. It is therefore helpful that Paragraph 187 introduces a requirement for local planning authorities to maintain or have access to a historic environment record. These should contain up-to-date evidence about the historic environment in their area which can be used to assess the significance of heritage assets and the contribution they make to the environment.
Helpfully, Paragraph 188 further states that these records and information should be publically available, which will assist and improve access to that inform and ensure transparency in the planning process by reference to a centralised record of the assets importance. This can be utilised and referred to when a planning application is being submitted.
Paragraph 198 of the NPPF 2 states that local planning authorities should not permit the loss of the whole, or part, of a heritage asset, without taking all reasonable steps to ensure the new development will proceed after the loss has occurred.
In practice, local planning authorities have sought to impose planning conditions or Section 106 obligations to achieve this aim, but the addition of this paragraph (while reaffirming the government's focus on the protection of heritage assets), does provide support for that approach where planning permission is granted - which leads to the loss of an heritage asset. In short, there is an expectation that the development permitted will be completed so as to ultimately justify the loss of the heritage asset.
Linked to the above, Paragraph 199 states that local planning authorities should require developers to record and show understanding of the significance of any heritage assets (in whole or part) to be lost in a manner proportionate to their importance and to make this evidence publically available.
Finally, in terms of decision making, it is noteworthy that where the new Paragraph 11 presumption in favour of sustainable development is engaged, impact on designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest), may still provide a "clear reason" for refusing permission in any event. They are one of the now "closed group" of assets of particular importance which could potentially override the presumption.
The amendments detailed above confirm the government's continued, firm stance on the protection of heritage assets and their importance. The amendments work alongside the stronger protection for the environment detailed elsewhere in the NPPF 2 and update the guidance to take account of judicial authority.
The NPPF 2 also seeks to assist in the sharing of important information about the historic environment, in a way that will hopefully result in more transparency and improvements to the planning process and decision making.