Protection & planning

The Grade II listed Barbican complex in London

Forms of designation & control

Frank Kelsall By Frank Kelsall Published 1 October, 2012

Frank Kelsall is a Director of The Architectural History Practice Ltd


The National Planning Policy Framework of 2011 (for England) requires those involved in the planning process to take account of the different roles and character of different areas and to conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance. Designation is a process by which local character and heritage assets can be identified so that they can be cared for in plan making, development control and decisions about funding.

Designations of heritage assets can be made formally under statutory powers or informally as a matter of good practice. The weight to be given to a designation depends on the level at which it has been made, the quality of the information which supports the designation and the circumstances in which proposals which affect an asset have been made. The following are the types of designation which are most likely to affect heritage assets.

International heritage designations

UNESCO, working through its ICOMOS agency, can designate World Heritage Sites which cover both the natural and the built heritage. Nomination for such a designation must come from a national government. At present (January 2013) there are 28 designations in the United Kingdom (19 in England, 5 in Scotland, 3 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland).  There is no specific statutory protection for World Heritage Site but proposals which affect such a site should be subject to special scrutiny.

National heritage designations

In England these are made by Historic England and in Wales by CADW though in the case of listed buildings and scheduled monuments the formal power in England rests with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and in Wales with the Welsh Government. Designations made in England by Historic England are included in a single National Heritage List for England although designations are made under a variety of powers and require different procedures to be followed if an asset is affected by development. An attempt to bring national designations into a single form of heritage asset designation was abandoned in 2010. Broadly speaking buildings are listed, archaeology is scheduled and parks, gardens and battlefields are registered. Current practice is to avoid overlaps between listed buildings and scheduled monuments wherever practicable though area designations may include either or both. The extent of information in the register about an asset varies widely; earlier designations are often brief while later designations have longer descriptions and more documentation. For the consequences which follow from a particular designation please see the Heritage consents section of this website and take advice from the local planning authority.

  • Scheduled ancient monuments are designated under the Ancient Monuments Act 1979. Such monuments vary widely in type, from prehistoric remains such as Stonehenge to World War II anti-aircraft batteries and a former prisoner of war camp. Scheduling can include such items as machinery. A scheduled monument must be of national importance but the power to schedule is discretionary and a monument need not be scheduled if there are others ways of securing its preservation. Major exclusions are inhabited buildings and churches in use. The number of scheduled monuments in England is nearly 20,000. Any works carried out to a scheduled monument require scheduled monument consent.
  • Listed buildings are designated under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. If a building is accepted as having special architectural or historic interest then it must be listed. Buildings should usually be more than 30 years old before listing can be considered. The number of listed buildings in England in is thought to be about 500,000, the precise number not clear because many of the c375,000 list entries cover more than one building. Works for the demolition, alteration or extension (but not the repair) of a listed building require listed building consent.
  • Registered parks and gardens are designated under a power given to Historic England by the National Heritage Act of 1983. The register covers designed landscape. Registration means that special attention has to be paid to the protection of the landscape when the site is affected by a planning application. There are over 1600 sites in the English National Register.
  • Registered battlefields are designated without specific statutory authorization to Historic England but the inclusion of a battlefield in the register means that special attention has to be paid to the protection of the site when it is affected by a planning application. There are 43 registered battlefields in England.
  • Wrecks: the National Heritage List also includes sites covered by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 because they are of special historical, artistic or archaeological interest. There are 61 such sites in the United Kingdom, 46 of them in English waters. Access to wreck sites is controlled by Historic England (or CADW in Wales). Further wreck sites are protected by the Ministry of Defence as war graves under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Local heritage designations

Local planning authorities have the powers to make designations for their areas and to give weight to these designations in their planning activities. There are three principal areas of interest where local designations are made:

  • Conservation areas are designated under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and local planning authorities are under an obligation to keep them under review. A conservation area is one of special architectural or historic interest (the same words as for listed buildings) the character and appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. It is now good practice for the designation to be accompanied by an assessment of the character of an area against which planning proposals can be assessed. There are probably about 9,000 conservation areas in England.
  • Local lists can be compiled by local planning authorities (about half have such a list) so that when they have to consider planning applications affecting buildings on the list such buildings can be regarded as heritage assets which have to be given special consideration; this is especially important for lesser buildings in conservation areas but a locally listed building can be anywhere.  
  • Archaeological sites (apart from those specifically designated nationally) are designated by inclusion in a local Heritage Environment Record to which every planning authority should have access. Many hundreds of thousands of sites are included in such records. Because the heritage asset is buried or hidden its importance is often not obvious; a planning authority would usually ask for an assessment of the potential interest of the site to accompany any planning application affecting it if a site is significant and a development proposal substantial and impose conditions on any planning permission which would allow for further investigation.
  • Area designations which do not have the full effect of conservation areas may also be designated by local planning authorities. These may indicate areas as having archaeological priority or special character.

Other designations which are not primarily intended to protect a heritage asset may nevertheless have implications for what can be done to a heritage asset. Many historic landscapes are also Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. There may be protection for bat roosts or bird nesting sites in historic buildings or rare flora and fauna in gardens and open spaces which are also heritage assets; green belt designation may affect the way in which sites can be used or transport designations affect historic bridges. A local planning authority should be able to provide information about all relevant designations affecting a particular site or may seek assessment of the environmental interest of a site as part of a planning application.

Seeking designation as a heritage asset is often the first step in protecting a site. Applications for designations should be made to the body responsible for them, to Historic England for all national heritage designations and to the local planning authority for others. In all cases it is sensible first to establish what information a local Historic Environment Record may have about a site and to seek inclusion of relevant information in that Record if it is not already there. It is important to remember that designation will depend on the merits of the heritage asset not the perceived drawbacks of a development which may affect it; proposals for designation should provide as much information as possible about the site.

Further information is best sought from Historic England via the pages on its website

To make an application for designation to Historic England there is a specific page with guidance and information at