First Major Heritage #NPPF appeal – But makes Viability not Heritage Precedent

English Heritages Legal Director has tweeted out the first major appeal centrering on impact on a heritage asset, the site of the former Moorfields Primary School at Bunhill Row in London. APP/V5570/A/11/2162902

As the site affects a grade I asset, and as the NPPF heritage policies are so similar to the previous PPS5 the outcome was in little doubt, it harmed a grade I asset, Bunhill fields,  after all, but is of interest is how the inspector weighs and balences the various issues ‘the Framework indicates that it is appropriate to weigh the public benefit against the harm‘ and in particular treats the issue of viability.  Interestingly the neighbouring block of flats hired David Lock personally to represent them.  A key indirect factor in the appeal was antient lights and the developer had to set aside a contingency for this so that even with public funding the affordable housing would vary via cascade clauses between 23% and 60%.  The inspector concluded rightly that right to light and compensation were matters outside planning concern and that loss of light would not be unusual for the area, but together with the harm   to heritage assets the harm outweighed the benefits.

The Inspector concluded:

The appeal site is previously developed land in a highly sustainable location, close to facilities and public transport. There is no doubt that the scheme would be deliverable and contribute to the local housing stock, provide affordable housing, including family homes, create jobs, provide community floor space, and improve biodiversity and promote sustainable construction, design and travel patterns. Allowing this appeal may also ensure that the timescale for the provision of 60% affordable housing with grant funding could be achieved.

However, one of the core planning principles in the Framework is to conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance so they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations. The assets in this case are of exceptionally high historic and architectural interest, influencing the character and distinctiveness of the area and as such they are of very high value to the public.

The appeal scheme would significantly harm the setting of the heritage assets, and the historic landscape, detracting from experience and appreciation of their heritage value to the public. In doing so, it would detract from the contribution of the heritage assets to society for this and future generations. In addition there would be harm to the living conditions of neighbours. As there would be a legacy of harm, I conclude that the appeal scheme would not constitute sustainable development and it would not comply with the aims of the Framework.

On the issue of viabilility

Although the documents accompanying its sale in 2008 suggest potential development scenarios and the appellant is a registered charity, this carries no weight, as the site is purchased at the developer’s risk and these are not exceptional circumstances.
Some additional figures have been put forward to justify the purchase price relating to the alternative uses and marketing for other similar sites. However, the data for alternative sites is basic and dates from 2009, and it not clear that it can be relied upon as an indicator of current values. Moreover, there is no background information supplied for the comparative sites referred to for the market value and it is not clear whether their site circumstances are similar.

So put brutally, paying too much for a site is not an exceptional circumstance, its a risk the appellant takes.

I stand to be corrected but I imagine this was a site sold by Islington itself.  It would appear reading the appeal as a whole  that a reduction in height and redesign adjoining Bunhill Fields should secure an approval and then this would outweigh any issue of harm from loss of daylight/sunlight.