The draft Bill today confirms the intention to introduce new provisions which seek to limit the use of pre-commencement conditions, which are currently important to ensure the sustainability of development proposals with respect to impact on archaeology.
However, CBA is cautiously optimistic about the Bill, which appears to leave room for archaeology, and wider heritage and environmental protections to be exempted from new provisions.
In short, the Bill introduces an amendment to the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act (100ZA) which makes provision for changes to how pre-commencement conditions can be used, namely to;
- Give power to the Secretary of State to prohibit particular types of pre-commencement condition (to be defined in regulation and subject to public consultation)
- Change the way in which conditions are attached to grants of planning permission, requiring them to be first agreed by developers.
Whilst these changes appear to have the potential to impact current planning provision for pre-commencement conditions considerably, the amendment also provides for exemptions, which the CBA considers could be appropriately applied to archaeology. The inclusion of archaeology within exempted issue would be fair to assume given previous assurances from Government in the wake of the 18,000-signature petition protesting the potential of the Bill to harm archaeology.
Government also reiterated these assurances in a statement released today, saying that the Bill would;
"…ensure that planning conditions which require developers to take action before work starts are only used where strictly necessary, but in a way that ensures important heritage and environmental safeguards remain in place so that once a developer has planning permission they can get on and start building as soon as possible." [emphasis added]
Whilst it is unfortunate that areas intended for exemption from the provision are not stated explicitly in the Bill, the CBA will be seeking confirmation from DCLG that this is indeed intended to cover principles of historic environment protection.
Protections for archaeology in respect of the Bill's other provision to allow the Secretary of State to prohibit particular types of pre-commencement conditions can also be read in the text, which highlights that types of conditions which are ‘necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms’ may not be considered for prohibition. Since the National Planning Policy Framework includes strong provision historic environment protections, this should apply to archaeological conditions which also satisfy the criteria of being ‘relevant’, ‘sufficiently precise’, and ‘reasonable’.
The CBA will be assessing the Bill in more detail in the coming days and will press Ministers for confirmation of the intention to exempt archaeological conditions from the Bill's provision.