Hereford Cathedral, Hereford.  General view of cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral, Hereford. General view of cathedral. © Historic England
Hereford Cathedral, Hereford. General view of cathedral. © Historic England

The Planning System

This page sets out how the planning system works to protect the historic environment. It is through the planning system that most changes to buildings and land in England are managed. It guides decisions on proposed changes to the historic environment, including those which are protected by listing.


The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, including the provision of homes, commercial development, and supporting infrastructure in a sustainable manner. Within this, the planning system has three overarching, interdependent objectives outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) including:

  • Economic
  • Social
  • Environmental

Whilst heritage comes within the environmental objective, it has an important part to play in delivering all three sustainable development objectives.

The government's policy for managing change to the historic environment through the planning system is to conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of existing and future generations.

The planning system

The planning system includes both local and national elements.

Local planning authorities must make a Local Plan, setting out policies for making planning decisions in their area and allocating land for development. Local Plans must be consistent with planning law and national policy and guidance. A Neighbourhood Plan can sit alongside the Local Plan, and can be prepared by a parish or town council, a neighbourhood forum, or a community organisation.

The national elements of the planning system are illustrated in this diagram, and include legislation, national planning policy and practice guidance, and advice. These are explained in more detail below.

Planning legislation

Planning legislation sets out how Local Plans should be made and how planning decisions should be taken.

‘Development’, a term defined by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, requires planning permission. Listed buildings and scheduled monuments have their own consent processes (which can be in addition to planning permission or required in some situations where planning permission is not).

The key pieces of legislation covering designated heritage assets, specifically, include:

Broader planning and related legislation also significantly influence the historic environment. For example, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 introduced new heritage planning mechanisms such as Listed Building Consent Orders, Local Listed Building Consent Orders and Listed Building Heritage Partnership Agreements.

England’s planning system is currently undergoing a period of significant reform, including through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (although not all provisions in the Act have come into force yet).


Based on legislation, local planning authorities are usually responsible for deciding applications for planning permission and listed building consent, though the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) may at times themselves determine applications. Scheduled Monument consent, however, is decided by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), with applications made to Historic England.

National planning policy

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the government's planning policies, and how they are expected to be applied. It has been revised several times since its initial publication in 2012, with the most recent being December 2023.

The NPPF has a section on the historic environment (Chapter 16 ‘Conserving and enhancing the historic environment’), though references to the historic environment are picked up throughout the document. The implementation of policy contained in Chapter 16 is discussed further in several of the advice notes listed below.

National planning guidance

The Government's Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) gives further information on how national policy is to be interpreted and applied locally. The PPG is available - together with a link to the NPPF - on the Planning Practice Guidance website. The PPG includes specific guidance on matters relating to the historic environment.

Historic England published planning advice

Our written advice is available to support owners, developers, and local planning authorities when considering proposed changes to heritage assets.

Historic England's published planning advice comes in two forms:

  • Good Practice Advice notes (GPAs) - provide supporting information on good practice, particularly looking at the principles of how national policy and guidance can be applied.
  • Historic England Advice Notes (HEANs) - include detailed, practical advice on how to implement national planning policy and guidance.

We are currently reviewing our advice considering ongoing planning reforms and will amend it, where necessary, in due course.

Good Practice Advice (GPAs)

The GPAs address plan-making and decision-taking, and other issues which are important in managing change affecting heritage assets. GPAs are the result of collaborative working with the heritage and property sectors in the Historic Environment Forum and have been prepared following public consultation.

Historic England Advice Notes (HEANs)

These are advice notes covering various planning topics in more detail and at a more practical level. They have been prepared by Historic England following public consultation.

Historic England also produces advice on other topics such as designated heritage assets, archaeological matters, and technical conservation matters which may also impact on planning matters, but which do not primarily address planning in the historic environment.

Other relevant advice published by Historic England includes:

The Historic England Planning Bulletin is produced monthly, and highlights some of the recent and forthcoming developments in the world of planning from a heritage perspective.

Policy Development Team

  • Address

    4th Floor, Cannon Bridge House,
    25 Dowgate Hill,
    EC4R 2YA