Councils should use 3D modelling to inform tall buildings policies, says revised Historic England advice

Local authorities should use 3D modelling to identify suitable sites for tall buildings when preparing local plans, while applicants should also use such technology to assess the impacts of their proposals, according to new draft advice from Historic England.

Skyscrapers in London. Image: Historic England / Chris Redgrave
Skyscrapers in London. Image: Historic England / Chris Redgrave

The government advisor and national heritage body has published a revised version of its tall buildings advice note for consultation, to replace a previous iteration published in 2015.

Historic England describes its Tall Buildings Advice Note as a "'How to' guide for developers, designers, local authorities and anyone involved in the tall buildings process".

Among the issues the advice note addresses are how councils should assess appropriate locations for tall buildings in local plans, setting high standards of design, discussing proposals before making a planning application, considering the cumulative effect of other tall building proposals and identifying the elements that create local character.

According to Historic England, changes in the latest version include a greater emphasis on the importance of a plan-led approach, references to the revised 2019 National Planning Policy Framework and last autumn's National Design Guide, and a recommendation that councils and applicants use emerging technologies to assess or justify tall building proposals.

Councils are advised that the plan-making process should include "modelling various heights and forms of development to assess their impact on heritage assets and the historic character of places that might be affected".

"In many urban locations the use of 3D digital models can support this process by providing easily understandable images that illustrate likely impacts," the advice note states.

Likewise, applicants are advised that "3D models and Accurate Visual Representations using photography are recommended to fully assess a proposal’s impact on the surrounding area". 

The note suggests plan-making may involve consideration of evidence including statements of heritage significance; conservation area appraisals; characterisation studies; inter-visibility studies; urban design and townscape analysis; and views studies.

The advice note informs local authorities: "Clearly identifying areas and sites where tall buildings would be considered appropriate in principle is likely to be the most effective way of ensuring development is genuinely plan-led.

"In the absence of allocations or areas identified as appropriate for tall buildings [in] development plans, and in places where tall building development is likely, there will need to be criteria to assess speculative proposals, including the sustainable management of the historic environment."

Supplementary planning documents are described as "important tools to help planning authorities to deliver good design".

Quoting from the National Design Guide, the advice note states: "Proposals for tall buildings require special consideration."

It adds that issues including the effect on views, sight lines, and local character, and a proposal’s environmental impacts, "need to be resolved satisfactorily".

Duncan Wilson, Historic England chief executive, said: "Well-designed tall buildings can be positive additions to towns and cities when thought is given to their location, but we see many ill-considered proposals that would harm their surroundings.

"With London and major towns and cities throughout the UK receiving large numbers of applications every year, we have updated our advice on planning for tall buildings so it reflects our recent experience and restates the need for new buildings to offer a meaningful response to the history and character of our cities."

In September last year, Ealing councillors refused plans for a 22-storey residential tower next to a Grade II listed art-deco former Hoover factory after an objection from Historic England.

Consultation on the new tall buildings advice note runs until 26 April. Views can be submitted here.

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