Academic journal article Urban Studies Research

Conundrums in Conservation: Complexity in Control

Academic journal article Urban Studies Research

Conundrums in Conservation: Complexity in Control

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The legitimacy of the planning system is dependent upon the efficacious implementation of the planning trinity, which comprises forward planning, development management, and enforcement [1]. In this context, enforcement has been repeatedly criticised as being the weakest link in the planning process [2-5]. Specifically, there is a dearth in appreciation of the serious problems which pervade the regulatory planning system. The departure point for this investigation is, therefore, to develop a theoretical framework which can be applied to develop a deeper understanding of inherent problems which underpin operational practice. The investigation draws upon a raft ofconcepts to develop a lens which cannot only be applied to identify and scrutinise those matters which are most likely to contribute to solving this complex equation, but may be of value in the wider regulatory arena.

Nowhere has planning enforcement been more maligned than in cases where significant breaches of control relate to conservation matters [6]; and, driven by Prior's assertion that "lessons from practice alone risk missing the mark" [3, page 64], the paper will not only examine the legislative and policy mechanisms which are used both as a deterrent and to remedy of breaches relating to conservation, but also it will analyse the structural factors which provide the cornerstone for the regulatory framework. In the first instance, the impetus for the investigation is established which subsequently facilitates a discussion on conservation regulatory mechanisms. Attention then turns to an exploration of the evolving theoretical framework within which regulatory control operates, particularly emerging thinking in fields such as risk-based and really responsive regulation [7, 8]. At each stage, a range of issues will be generated which are scrutinised in an empirical investigation which spans jurisdictions in the UK and Ireland. The paper concludes by not only suggesting how theory can inform practice but makes suggestions for improvement to the legislative framework and operational procedure, provides insights into structural problems which underpin conservation enforcement, suggests remedies which might be beneficial not only to planning but other disciplines, and draws attention to issues of ethics and legitimacy which have far reaching implications for the planning profession.

The impetus for this investigation has been generated by evidence that questions the effectiveness of enforcement practice on conservation matters across the UK. Northern Ireland's (NI's) built heritage conservation record has been singled out for particular criticism and consequently provides an ideal departure point for the study. The Historic Buildings Council identified unauthorised works undertaken on listed buildings as a particular area of ineffective enforcement as long ago as 1996 [9] and the protection of built heritage was described in the recent BBC Two television programme "Restoration" as being bottom of the league in the UK. Lack of deterrent is the most commonly reported factor for maintaining this reputation [4] and recent high-profile examples of this include the illegal demolition of two listed buildings in Portstewart which resulted in a fine of just 250 [pounds sterling] fine per building; while in Bushmills developers were fined 5,000 [pounds sterling] for the unauthorised demolition of, again, two listed buildings. Such activities continue apace with de minimis fines issued by the courts when prosecutions are successful. Indeed, the demolition of the B+ listed Tillie & Henderson clothing factory in Derry, without prosecution, adds weight to the hypothesis that there are major inadequacies in the present system.

So far no one has offered comprehensive explanations as to why the system is not working effectively and why so many offences against jewels in the conservation crown have slipped through the enforcement net [10]. …

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