Designation & Justice

A speech delivered by Chris Dalglish, Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development, to BEFS Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement Conference.

The Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement (HESPS) is currently being reviewed.  HESPS sets out how Historic Environment Scotland fulfils its regulatory and advisory roles and how it expects others to interpret and implement Scottish Planning Policy with regard to historic environment matters 

The 2018 Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS)  conference considered future Historic Environment policy both in terms of short-term pragmatism and long-term vision. Inherit was invited to deliver a short ‘provocation’ on one of the conference themes of Vision, Designation and Management. This provocation has been published on the Inherit website and is reproduced in full here. 

“We want to talk to you about designation. We want to talk about justice. We want us all to begin seeing justice as a necessary requirement both for decisions to designate something in the first place and for subsequent decisions about the management of a designation.

This is our first proposal for you:

HESPS should contain an explicit commitment to delivering greater designation justice.

We believe that this mission – delivering greater designation justice – should be given high priority; if it is not, historic environment designations could inhibit people in their efforts to thrive as communities.

What do we mean by this?

Designation singles out buildings, places and areas of land and makes them the subject of particular policies or legal constraints. The intention is to influence the way in which places change.

Designation is a development intervention. 

Normally, in this context, we would understand ‘development’ to have the meaning given to it in the planning system – construction, engineering and mining operations or changes in the use of land and buildings (2). Designation has the purpose of protecting and preserving the historic environment from, or through, development of this kind.

But designation also intervenes in the wider development of communities and their places.  It can impact upon people’s lives and their prospects for the future.

This raises questions:

  • Do current approaches to designation promote justice and sustainability? 
  • Or are they blind to the potential social consequences of designation?
  • Are the people affected by designation decisions sufficiently involved in making those decisions?

We would argue that:

Current approaches to designation are not sustainable because they concentrate too narrowly on protecting and preserving things. 

One reason for saying this is that current approaches are not sufficiently just, both in terms of the outcomes of designation decisions and in terms of the ways in which such decisions are made.

To expand on this a little, we would like to draw on some of our current research into the relationships between people and conservation.  This is something we are working on here in Scotland, through a research project sponsored by Community Land Scotland.  It is also something we are working on internationally, for example through a current project in the Aoos/Vjosa River region of Greece and Albania.

The Scottish work is looking at a range of conservation measures and their impacts upon rural communities.  This includes designation.

There are three main questions here.

1. Can people currently participate in decisions that affect them?

HESPS promotes transparency, clear communication, due notification and consultation.  It notes that people have certain rights of appeal and can also propose things for designation.  We are also aware that HES and other organisations are actively experimenting with new approaches to engagement in designation decisions.

There are some real positives here, but current measures are not sufficient (when measured against the National Standards for Community Engagement (4) for example).

Our findings are that:

  • People do not feel able to participate in designation decisions and therefore feel locked out of decisions that affect their lives;
  • For many communities, the interactions they have with the relevant public sector organisations are not satisfactory. People feel as though things are always being done to them, rather than with them;
  • There is also a feeling that the actions of built environment professionals stem from an inherited culture that does not value serious dialogue with communities.

There is a deficit between generally accepted principles of participation and people’s experience of the ways in which designation decisions are made. 

2. What are the impacts of current approaches to designation on people and on their opportunities for development?

  • There is a mixed picture when people are asked whether or not designations have had a positive or negative impact upon concrete development projects;
  • Negative impacts are reported where it is felt that designations have unduly constrained development that is essential to the survival and flourishing of the community;
  • Positive impacts are reported where designations are seen to have controlled development that people felt was being imposed upon them without benefitting them;
  • The single most important finding is of a more subtle but more profound kind of impact. This is the impact that exclusion from decision-making has on people’s confidence, sense of security and drive as communities.

Current approaches to designation appear to be having a significant negative impact upon community confidence and resilience. 

3. Where should the focus of attention be in seeking to improve participation in designation decisions?

The principles of ethical, inclusive and meaningful participation are now well established.  There needs to be a more concerted effort to implement these principles in practice, and HESPS could usefully promote that objective.

More specifically, it is important to emphasise that:

Empowerment is necessary to achieving good participation.  

Empowerment is the process that leads to people achieving greater control and influence over their circumstances.  It is known that, if people don’t feel they can influence a decision, they are much less likely to participate.  Conversely, it is also true that people need to participate to become empowered.  We should see participation and empowerment as necessary to each other.

Community empowerment is being pursued widely in Scotland, of course – through community ownership, asset transfer and so on.  It has also been a prominent issue in the planning review and in discussions surrounding the current Planning (Scotland) Bill.

To contribute to this wider effort, we believe that:

HESPS should explicitly promote empowerment in designation decisions. 

This does not mean dispensing with the national perspective and with specialist expertise.  Nor does it mean promoting any one interest to the exclusion of others.

It means that HESPS should strongly promote a shift in the relationships between communities and public bodies with designation responsibilities.  It means going far beyond notification and consultation.  It means accepting the community’s right to lead, and not just in limited or exceptional circumstances.

In relation to this, we believe that:

HESPS should contain an explicit commitment to bettering relationships between HES and community bodies (and associations of community bodies). 

More active, cooperative and sustained relationships would create a good foundation for understanding the potential consequences of designation.  They should lead to better decisions all round.

Achieving these aims of empowerment and better relationships requires leadership to be shown in relation to several other objectives:

  • HES should explicitly commit to working for a change of culture amongst historic environment professionals in relation to designation decisions and practice. 
  • HESPS should promote the development of participation capabilities and capacity within HES and within other organisations with designation responsibilities.

Support will also need to be provided to community bodies to enable them to engage with and represent their communities regarding historic environment matters:

HESPS should commit to supporting community bodies in the development of their knowledge, skills and experience relating to historic environment matters.

There is a lot more to discuss on all these points but we believe that, together, they begin to map out a path to greater designation justice.”



1. ‘Designation + justice’ is a riff on the idea of landscape justice, which is the subject of a short essay by Inherit Director Chris Dalglish recently published on the Community Land Scotland website.

2. Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997


4. see; also, see Planning Advice Note 3/2010: Community engagement (2010)