Historic England have weighed in to the Bullsmoor Planning Application controversy with a lengthy dissection of the application on heritage grounds. It is one of more than 140 responses to the application to date.
The application submitted by Vaillant and Peveril Homes seeks to extend the existing factory buildings, add to car parking and build 150 homes on land at Bullsmoor, behind the existing Vaillant factory.
In setting out their position Historic England have sent a letter to Amber Valley Borough Council as follows:
“We believe the proposed development of this site is harmful to the Outstanding Universal Value of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and the significance of the Belper and Milford Conservation Area, and Grade II listed Pottery Farm. Accordingly, in relation to the impact upon designated heritage assets we are not convinced that the proposals can be considered to constitute sustainable development in the manner set out in paragraphs 7, 14, 17 and 132 of the NPP. Therefore we object on heritage grounds.
Historic England Advice
The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site was inscribed in 2001 on the basis of two criteria:
Criterion (ii) the site should exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design.
Criterion (iv) the site should be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape, which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee recorded that these criteria were met for the following reasons:
Criterion (ii) The Derwent Valley saw the birth of the factory system, when new types of building were erected to house the new technology for spinning cotton developed by Richard Arkwright in the late 18th century
Criterion (iv) In the Derwent Valley for the first time there was large-scale industrial production in a hitherto rural landscape. The need to provide housing and other facilities for workers and managers resulted in the creation of the first modern industrial settlements.
Both criterion are demonstrated within Belper, where in c.1770s Jedediah Strutt and his sons created their pioneering water powered, cotton mill business, and by building housing and facilities for their workers, created one of the world’s first industrial communities – within what was a small settlement of cottage industries within a rural landscape. This is a key part of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage Site. As a cultural landscape the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site possesses a high degree of integrity and authenticity which encompasses the relationship of the industrial sites and their housing settlements to the topography of the surrounding landscape which has been preserved – the sharp contrast between the former industrial settlement and surviving rural landscape demonstrates how the factory system was imposed on this rural landscape.
The site lies within the buffer zone – as defined, this is the area surrounding the World Heritage Site to give an added layer of protection. It can therefore be seen as part of the setting (though setting can be more extensive than the buffer zone). The presence of the buffer zone recognises the need to acknowledge and protect the significance of the WHS as a cultural landscape. Within the WHS the relationship between the industrial mill buildings within the historic settlement, the River Derwent and its tributaries including the Coppice Brook, and the topography of the surrounding rural landscape, with historic roads connecting the settlements, is a key element of the character and significance of the buffer zone. This relationship today is spatial, visual and historic.
The site comprises a series of five fields with the adjacent land which forms part of the Vaillant Plant. The land slopes in a general north to south direction down towards the Coppice Brook and rear of properties on Nottingham Road. Existing trees and hedgerows provide a mature landscaped setting with defined field boundaries. Historically the site is shown on an enclosure map of 1790-91 within two open fields. The tithe map of 1844 shows a more intensive field pattern over the whole site with farmsteads including the 18C Pottery Farm, Bullsmoor Farm and Cherry House Farm.
Part of the significance of the Grade II listed Pottery Farm lies in its rural and former agricultural setting beyond the main settlement. Nottingham road is shown to the north beyond the Coppice Brook showing the expansion of the town in this area. Despite some change in the 20C, the arrangement of fields and former farmsteads around and within the site remain unchanged. The contribution of this site to the OUV and authenticity and integrity of the DVMWHS and significance of the designated heritage assets is therefore through the survival of this rural landscape character. This we believe is despite the 20C intervention including the Vaillant Plant, as the site helps to reinforce the strong contrast of the rural landscape with the historic urban settlements and the relationship with the water tributaries, which provides a reminder of how this area evolved and the parameters and arrestment of development.
Impact of the proposed development on significance
As described above, the proposed development site’s character is essentially one of rural landscape with field boundaries, lying on the slopes above the Coppice Brook and below the landscaped ridge. In our view, it is sensitive to change and development for housing combined with expansion of the Vaillant site, with associated infrastructure would result in further encroachment and the loss of this rural character in this part of the buffer zone.
The submitted Heritage Assessment considers the visual impact of the proposal with reference to a series of views from around the site and distances beyond. Whilst we acknowledge that the impact of immediate views to and from the development site, to the WHS and conservation area, varies, redevelopment, beyond the existing industrial use, would change both the character and experience of this part of the rural setting, further eroding the clear relationship between settlement, including the 19C expansion along Nottingham Road, and rural landscape.
The significance and experience of this area is not confined to static views: much of the contribution made by the site to the OUV of the DVMWHS, the setting of Belper and Milford Conservation area and that of Pottery Farm, lies in moving along the area which creates a cumulative experience of the overall character of this part of the DVMWHS buffer zone. As Government guidance advises, setting is not confined to visual factors such as sight lines and views, it is as much defined by spatial associations and by our understanding of the historic relationships between places.
World Heritage sites are places of outstanding universal value, defined as of a cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and of importance for present and future generations. The DVMWHS is therefore a heritage asset of very high value.
As the application affects the setting of listed buildings and the conservation area, the decision-maker must take into account the statutory requirement to have special regard to the desirability of preserving the setting of a listed building (s. 66, 1990 Act) and to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the conservation area (s.72, Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act, 1990) – the requirement applies irrespective of the level of harm.
At the heart of Government’s National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development which in this context, means guiding development towards a solution that achieves economic, social and environmental gains jointly and simultaneously [paragraph 8]. Specifically, the environmental dimension of sustainable development gives rise to the need for the planning system to contribute to protecting and enhancing our historic environment as part of achieving this objective [paragraph 7].
One of the twelve core planning objectives set out in the NPPF is the conservation of heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, recognising their value to the community and quality of life [paragraph 17]. The significance of a heritage asset derives not only from its physical presence, but also from its setting. The importance attached to setting is recognised by the Principal Act, by the NPPF, by the accompanying Planning Practice Guidance and the Historic Environment Good Practice in Planning Note 3 The Setting of Heritage Assets.
Significance can be harmed or lost through development within a heritage asset’s setting and since heritage assets are irreplaceable any harm or loss to significance requires ‘clear and convincing’ justification [paragraph 132]. When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to its conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be [paragraph 132]. No higher sense of importance is described in the NPPF.
The NPPF indicates that in decision making applications should not be granted where the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole, or where specific policies (including those relating to the conservation of cultural heritage) indicate that development should be restricted [paragraph 14].
Historic England Position
It is our view that this proposed housing development will harm the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage site, and significance that other designated heritage assets including the conservation area, derives from their setting. Where the harm is judged to be less than substantial, harm should be weighed against the public benefit of the proposal [paragraph 134].
Harm to the historic environment can be justified under the NPPF, but the public benefits delivered by the development would have to be substantial to outweigh the level of harm to the OUV of the DVMWHS. It is not the case that harm means the proposal is acceptable. In our view the proposals do not seek to sustain and conserve the OUV of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
We refer to two appeals, both dismissed on grounds including heritage, which may assist you in considering the issues raised by this application.
Land at Hill Top Farm, Belper (APP/M1005/A/10/21425 71) 3 June 2011
Land off North Avenue, Darley Abbey, (APP/C1055/W/15/3137935) 22 July 2016 – we draw your attention to the Inspector’s findings, which are of relevance here:
Para 36. Paragraph 138 of the NPPF notes that not all elements of a World Heritage Site will necessarily contribute to its significance. Nevertheless, overall, the WHS represents an asset of very high value. Although the appeal site represents a small fragment of the 24km long WHS, the proposals’ local harm should not be under-rated when considering the effect on the WHS as a whole. It should not lie below that of a similar effect on a much smaller world heritage site, otherwise such reasoning could lead to the proliferation of similar harm throughout the WHS. Planning Practice Guidance endorses the principle of protecting a Wold Heritage Site from the effect of changes which are relatively minor but which, on a cumulative basis, could have a significant effect.
For the reasons set out within this advice letter, we consider this proposed housing scheme is harmful to the Outstanding Universal Value of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. We also believe the development will harm both the significance of the Belper and Milford conservation area and the Grade II listed Pottery Farm.
Ultimately, the soundness of a decision by your authority requires careful weighing of the significance of the heritage assets and the degree of harm arising from the proposed development against the merits of this and alternative locations for housing development. If suitable, alternative, less harmful locations have been identified to meet housing need, then there is no justification for development in this location. Accordingly, in relation to the impact upon designated heritage assets including the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, we are not convinced that the proposals can be considered to constitute sustainable development in the manner set out in paragraphs 7, 14, 17 and 132 of the NPP. Therefore we object on heritage grounds.”
Public Meeting on Thursday
A public meeting to discuss the proposals is being led by Cllrs Maurice Neville and Dan Booth and assisted by AV Planning Officer, Mark Penfold and will be held at Strutts Community Centre, Derby Road on Thursday (18th August) at 6.00pm.
All are welcome to the meeting which may result in the setting up of a cross-party alliance to fight the proposals in a manner similar to that formed to fight the Bessalone proposals.
The Planning Application and related documents can be found at: http://www.ambervalley.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/planning/development-management/planning-applications/view-a-planning-application.aspx where you’ll need to enter the reference number: AVA/2016/0754
Letters of objection setting out all your reasons should reach Amber Valley Borough Council by Monday 22nd August and can be submitted online.
An interactive heritage map on the Transition Belper web site displays all listed buildings, conservation areas, World Heritage Site and its Buffer Zone boundaries locally and is available here: http://www.transitionbelper.org/heritagemap.html
By David George