IHBC Yearbook 2021

42 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 2 1 making. Inexplicably, these issues are largely absent from much guidance on heritage in plan-making. Some have argued that levelling up means supporting certain areas to the detriment of others. This may miss the point. Supporting under-performing areas and incentivising development not only creates economic activity and opportunity, but is also likely to take pressure off areas that are overheating, so helping to tackle problems of congestion and environmental degradation. So there could be win/ win solutions. GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS The government’s current focus is now on city and town centres and city regions, in contrast to the more regionalised approach of the past. There were initiatives already under way prior to the Covid-19 crisis, such as Future High Streets Fund and the High Street Task Force in England. There is perhaps something of a rethink on infrastructure, as reflected in the recent cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge expressway. The government’s Levelling Up fund, which covers the whole of the UK, will focus on infrastructure, regeneration, town centre investment, community spaces, visitor attractions, and heritage assets. While heritage assets are referred to explicitly in the government’s levelling up proposals, the other priorities may also have implications for heritage, especially those targeting town centres or regeneration. There are potentially substantial benefits for historic areas, although also risks if intervention and investment is poorly conceived. Also, as is often the case with government policy, there are contradictions. These programmes are accompanied by planning reforms in England which could lessen protection of heritage assets. These include expansion of permitted development rights for extensions and changes of use and the creation of Use Class E for town centre uses (which includes former B1 light industrial and office uses). Many local plan and neighbourhood plan policies are rendered ineffective by such reforms. The Planning Bill continues the centralising tendency, reducing opportunities for communities to influence development proposals. There is a clear tension between planning reform and levelling up. Indeed, the centralisation of powers sits uncomfortably with the concept of levelling up, which could be expected to involve a greater emphasis on local solutions. Other barriers to levelling up are not addressed by current proposals. In particular, there has been a long-embedded assumption in planning policy that housing supply and affordability challenges apply everywhere. In England, the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 (NPPF) is very much focused on these issues, but with relatively little emphasis on the need to create economic opportunity or to tackle viability challenges. So the focus of the NPPF is clearly more on high-growth areas than on under-performing areas. It is perhaps relevant that many policy makers in government and national bodies are based in and around the Westminster bubble. Similarly, many government programmes channel money to high growth areas, especially to tackle affordability. Perhaps predictably, this has failed to tackle property price inflation, and may have actually made it worse. HERITAGE TRACK RECORD It is refreshing to see heritage explicitly recognised as part of the levelling up agenda. There is clearly a very strong track record of heritage helping to achieve regeneration and economic development, sometimes involving dramatic physical and economic transformations. Perhaps the most dramatic of these is in Liverpool. The listing and refurbishment of the Albert Dock in the 1980s was not only a large regeneration project, but an essential part of challenging perceptions and creating investor and business confidence. This was a pivotal moment in the regeneration process. Heritage and culture have continued to play a key role, for example in the current regeneration of the Fabric District and Ten Streets. There are numerous other examples of transformational heritage-led schemes in former historic commercial or industrial areas across the north of England and elsewhere. Most towns and cities have also benefited from smaller scale interventions based on heritage assets, for example the creative conversions of libraries and town halls to create enterprise space and community facilities in places like Belfast and Stoke-on-Trent. Heritage can be seen as a tool to achieve growth and also a potential beneficiary of improved economic performance. There is now a very recognisable cycle where historic industrial and commercial areas Street art by INSA in New Brighton, the Wirral: a creative approach can help to transform local places and economies.