New consultation to streamline listed building consents
Listed buildings will be put at risk by government plans to outsource conservation reports to the private sector, according to heritage experts.
Ministers published plans for consultation last week that would see local authority conservation officers’ role taken on by “accredited agents” appointed by developers.
Agents are likely to be architects but could also include planning consultants or chartered surveyors. Applicants for listed building consent would be allowed to appoint an agent to produce a report for the local authority.
Critics of the plans said that agents appointed by developers would find difficulty producing objective recommendations.
Jane Kennedy, partner at Purcell, said: “Listed building consent is a matter of judgement. What we really want are well trained experience conservation officers. If a developer asks you to do a report it’s very difficult to be independent.”
Clementine Cecil, director at SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: “An accredited agent will be paid for by the developer so it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t be biased towards the result the developer wants,” she said.
The plan is one of several recommendations aimed at streamlining the listed building consents. The government said it wanted to ensure “standards of protection are maintained” after a dramatic reduction in the number of local authority conservation officers – numbers of which have fallen by a fifth since 2006.
Festus Moffat, director at John Robertson Architects, agreed that the private sector could play a greater role in the process, but said it could not act as a replacement for a properly resourced public sector.
“There still needs to be someone at the council who will judge the report rather than just swallow it whole,” he said. “This solves half of the problem.”
His views were echoed by Paul Velluet, an architect and independent building conservation consultant. “Whilst these reports might be done very competently and hopefully objectively, I don’t see the idea of accredited agents as replacing conservation officers,” he said.
The government acknowledged that the proposals could “blur the demarcation between regulatory function and development interests” but said it would ensure “appropriate professional safeguards” were put in place.
Seán O’Reilly, director at the Institute for Historic Building Conservation, said he had doubts such a system would work. He said: “If the recommendation is coming from an interested party we would say it is legally flawed.”
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