Side view of Former Military Hospital at Brielle Way, Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent
Former Military Hospital at Brielle Way, Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent © Historic England DP181868
Former Military Hospital at Brielle Way, Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent © Historic England DP181868

Building Preservation Notices: An Important Tool in our Interim Protection Armour

By Jessica Cole, Listing Casework Analysis Manager, Strategy and Listing Team, Historic England

The number of regrettable stories we read about where valuable, historic buildings are demolished before they can be protected could be reduced if we made better use of the tools at our disposal. Building Preservation Notices (BPNs) are underused, but they are the main means in England of interim protection.

Where the threat is urgent, a BPN offers a quick means to safeguard the building until a decision on listing can be made. We must work together in this and use the tools currently at our disposal, but we recognise that BPNs are just one tool in the fight against pre-emptive damage.

What is a Building Preservation Notice?

A BPN is a form of temporary listing served by the local planning authority under section 3 of the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. It protects a building for six months allowing Historic England to carry out an assessment of the building for listing. Where the threat is urgent, a BPN therefore offers strong protection against pre-emptive action and also allows us to assess the building for listing knowing the building is protected as if it were listed for a period of six months.

A building is eligible for a BPN if it appears to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to be of special architectural or historic interest; and is in danger of demolition or of alteration in such a way as to affect its character as a building of such interest. Planning authorities and National Park Authority have the power to serve a BPN on the owner of a building which is not listed.

Unfortunately, the powers available here are not being used. An average of between five and six BPNs have been served by LPAs in the previous four years. This is just a tiny percentage of the numbers of buildings that are being listed each year. Recent investigations have shown a number of reasons for this, with compensation implications seeming to be the main barrier.

What is Historic England doing?

In late September 2018, we ran our first webinar on BPNs and through that sought to discuss the purpose of BPNs, how they are served and how they could be used more widely by officers in LPAs and the National Parks Service (NPS).

During the webinar, participants were asked a series of questions. This showed us some interesting results but notably many more people had considered serving them, compared to the numbers actually being served. This seems to represent a lack of understanding and confidence in the BPN process, and its role as a tool for interim protection. The majority of people responding didn’t know, or weren’t sure about, the process of serving a notice.

One of the other questions we asked was why participants hadn’t thought about serving a BPN. From this we got reassurance of the view that compensation is undoubtedly a barrier to servicing a BPN.

It is important to remember that compensation may be payable in certain circumstances in the event that a building, on which a BPN has been served, is not listed. The possibility that the service of a BPN may lead to an award for compensation for such losses against the LPA which served the notice has severely impacted on the numbers of BPNs being served.

In order to address this we were pleased to announce in November 2018 a two-year pilot scheme which we are running to explore the benefits of indemnification by Historic England against the risk of compensation claims. We have also produced an updated advice note on BPNs that gives clearer advice on how to serve a BPN and the processes involved.

In the coming months we will also be hosting more webinar’s around the topic of BPNs. It is our hope that the powers here will be used more frequently to protect our historic buildings whilst they are being assessed for listing.

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