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What Is the ‘Setting’ of a Heritage Asset? High Court Gives Guidance

Country EstateWhat constitutes the ‘setting’ of a heritage asset? The High Court considered that burning issue in overturning planning permission for a development of 400 new homes on a site less than two miles away from a Grade I-listed stately home.

The neo-classical property was viewed as one of the finest examples of 18th century architecture in Britain and the site of the proposed development was a few hundred yards from the perimeter of its grounds. Despite an acknowledged scarcity of new homes in the area, the local authority had refused planning permission on the basis that the public benefits of the scheme were outweighed by the harm that would be caused to the setting of heritage assets.

A government planning inspector, however, later allowed the would-be developer’s appeal and granted consent on the basis that the site would not be visible from the house and thus did not form part of its setting, within the meaning of the National Planning Policy Framework.

In upholding a concerned local resident’s challenge to that decision, however, the Court found that the inspector had taken an artificially narrow approach to the issue. The site had once formed part of the property’s wider agricultural estate and, in focusing on visual impact, the inspector had failed to consider its historic, social and economic connections to the house.

Historic England, the National Trust and the Gardens Trust had all objected to the inspector’s decision and the flaw in his approach amounted to an error of law. The planning permission was quashed and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was ordered to reconsider the matter.