Context 140 - July 2015

10 C O N T E X T 1 4 0 : J U LY 2 0 1 5 MANUS DEERY Reforming local government Management of the historic environment in Northern Ireland is undergoing major change, giving local government powers to become more flexible and strategic. On 1April 2015 responsibility for the majority of planning in Northern Ireland, along with some other powers, was devolved from regional to local government.These powers had been removed from local government in 1972 and at the same time the power to designate listed buildings and conservation areas was introduced to the region, so district councils in Northern Ireland have never had specific historic environment powers. However, they have been active over many years in encouraging regeneration through economic development and, through the work of their building control officers, tackling dereliction.These powers are also being enhanced as part of the changes now introduced. Remaining urban regeneration powers are expected to be fully devolved by April 2016. SinceApril the number of district councils in Northern Ireland has been reduced from 26 to 11. This brings economy of scale and potentially the resource to invest in regenerative projects. The historic environment is an important part of this potential. A report published by the Department of the Environment in 2012 noted that if Northern Ireland was performing at an equivalent rate to Scotland, the historic environment would be generating £1.5 billion annually and supporting 20,000 jobs. That is three times as much output as at present and twice as many jobs1.This identifies clear future potential in a sector which supports a wide range of skills and jobs. Northern Ireland’s current 12 government departments will reduce to nine from May 2016.The Department of the Environment, which includes both the NIEA and the remaining central planning function, will cease to exist.The Historic Environment Division, museums and culture, local government and welfare functions will form a new Department of Communities. Planning will move to the newly proposed Department of Infrastructure.This will require new legislation splitting heritage functions from the Planning (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 as part of a newTransfer of Functions Order. In anticipation, as of 1 May 2015, the Historic Environment Division has moved from the NIEA, while remaining within the Department of the Environment. The budget agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive for the current financial year has seen the Department of the Environment’s overall budget reduced by 11.5 per cent. Consequently the Historic Environment Division’s budget has been reduced.This has necessitated the termination of archaeological and the listing resurvey contracts, and a reduction in the listed building grant from an expected £3.2 million to £500,000. For the new councils amajor change is that they have the power to draw up a local development plan for their area. In line with England, management of new development will become plan-led, and move away from the current situation of plans and a range of other regional policies. These plans will develop policies within a new regional framework.AStrategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS), which condenses current regional policy, will create the framework. Following consideration by the Northern Ireland Environment Committee, it will be published in its final form in the near future. Current policies like those contained within Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning, Archaeology and the Built Heritage will be superseded as each council publishes its new plan. The current aim is that the plan strategy, the first strategic part of the plans, will be published within two years. The Historic Environment Division is currently reasonably well represented on Northern Ireland’s area plans, including unique designations such as areas of townscape and village character, and local landscape policy areas (often focused on a listed or unlisted ‘building of local importance’) not found elsewhere in the UK, and designations such as historic parks and gardens, which are. However, individual archaeological features or listed buildings are rarely indicated, unless they are monuments in state care or for the purpose of defining an area of Reference 1 Study of the Economic Value of Northern Ireland’s Historic Environment, DOE(NI), May 2012 Management of conservation areas such as this one in Armagh City is now a local authority responsibility (Photo: Andrew McClelland)