A Round-Up of Recent Historic Environment Developments

Posted on: March 27, 2020 by

The fate of Stonehenge and the A303 has reared its ugly head again, or perhaps not. When the Chancellor announced the Budget on 11 March 2020 he confirmed the Government’s continued commitment to the Stonehenge scheme, saying it is “going to get it done”. However, this does not mean the scheme has been given the green light.

The proposed scheme is to build a 2.9km four-lane tunnel along the current line of the two-lane A303. The current road cuts through the Stonehenge complex which includes hundreds if not thousands of known and unknown archaeological features and monuments. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. UNESCO condemned the scheme in 2018 as it would cause irreparable damage to the World Heritage Site. On the other hand, Historic England, which is responsible for the management of the site and is a statutory consultee on the historic environment under the National Heritage Act 1983, supports the proposed scheme saying that it will allow visitors to focus on Stonehenge and the other monuments without the disruption of traffic noise, thus bringing it back to how it was intended to be experienced.

Stonehenge (Image credit: garethwiscombe CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The details in the Chancellor’s Budget regarding the Stonehenge scheme state that it has been carried over to the latest Roads Infrastructure 2 (RIS2) document. This document sets out how, within the budget and the allocated investments, the road network is to be improved and made safer over the next five years.

However, there are a number of hurdles to jump through before the Stonehenge scheme can commence. The decision of the Secretary of State for Transport is expected by early April this year, following submission of the Planning Inspectorate’s report and recommendation based on its examination of the scheme which took place between April and October 2019. The Transport Secretary is likely to approve the scheme but even then, there is no guarantee that it will go ahead. For instance, according to Rescue (The British Archaeological Trust), Highways England have admitted that the scheme represents “low to poor value for money”.

To add to the uncertainties already surrounding the scheme, a landmark judgement handed down by the Court of Appeal on 27 February 2020 may possibly add a further factor into the mix. In the case of R (Friends of the Earth) v Secretary of State for Transport and others a challenge to the approval of a third runway at Heathrow was raised. The judgement declared that the Airports National Policy Statement favouring a third runway at Heathrow is unlawful. This is because the UK’s obligations to tackle climate change under the Paris Agreement were not taken into account. As such, several large infrastructure schemes may be at risk of challenge and may have to be adapted or reconsidered. These include not only the Stonehenge project but also the A27 bypass around Arundel, which would cut through the South Downs National Park and an ancient woodland. The proposed third runway at Heathrow would risk potential harm to 21 Grade II listed buildings, 54 other designated heritage assets and over 100 archaeological sites.

On 10 March 2020 the Supreme Court hearing of Dill (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and another Respondents) took place. The case concerned two 18th century lead urns that were individually and separately listed and were sold in 2009 at auction, without Listed Building Consent having been granted. When, in 2015, the local council discovered that these urns had been removed they informed the appellant that he should apply for retrospective Listed Building Consent. This was subsequently refused and the council issued an enforcement notice requiring the return of the urns. This was not possible (the property owner had no knowledge of their whereabouts) and so the decision was appealed, contending that there had been no breach of listed building control because the items were not buildings within the meaning of s.1(5) Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and that the items should be de-listed or consent given. The Inspector dismissed the appeals and the appellant’s arguments have not succeeded in either the High Court or the Court of Appeal. (The IAL’s commentary on the Court of Appeal hearing and judgment can be read here). The issues presented at the Supreme Court hearing were 1) On an application for Listed Building Consent, should the Planning Inspector consider whether the items listed were “buildings”? and 2) What is the correct approach to determining whether the items are “buildings”? We all eagerly await their lords and ladyships’ judgement.

Historic England is currently running several consultations; the first is the Tall Buildings Advice Note which highlights the importance of a plan-led approach and the use of 3D modelling to assess the impact of tall buildings on heritage assets and the historic character of places that might be affected. In particular, the use of 3D models will provide easily understandable images that illustrate likely impacts and will help decision makers and interested parties visualise how the views will change. This will also encourage good design. The consultation runs until 26 April.

The second is another Advice Note on commercial renewable energy proposals and their potential impacts on the historic environment. The note aims to advise those in commercial renewable energy development how to give appropriate consideration to heritage issues. This consultation runs until 28 May.

The last consultation is on Historic England’s new strategic framework for its engagement with local authorities. The draft strategic framework sets out how Historic England will help local authorities understand the assistance and support Historic England can provide. This consultation runs until 20 April.