The aim of the proposed reforms is to simplify heritage protection by amalgamating statutory protection measures. These include: listing historic buildings; registering parks, gardens and battlefields; and scheduling archaeological sites – each of which has its own regulations.
The reforms will also set up legal "management agreements" between owners making applications to change their buildings and their local authority.
The pilot projects cover a wide range of buildings and estates, all of which will rely on management agreements. For grade II-listed Centre Point in London, for instance, the management agreement will allow for routine changes, but consent will be required for major changes.
Peter Beecham, English Heritage's director of listing, who is overseeing the pilot projects, says the current system is overly bureaucratic.
"The reformed system will encourage strategic long-term thinking, as management agreements will have built-in flexibility," he said. "This means that in large estates there will be no need to come back for successive consents."
The DCMS plans to feed the initial results of the pilot projects, along with the response to a consultation held last year, into a policy paper to be published at the end of this year. But changes to legislation are not anticipated by English Heritage until 2006 at the earliest.
There is widespread concern about the impact of the reforms on overworked conservation officers. Christopher Morley, British Property Federation's construction director, said: "We are broadly supportive, with the proviso that the complexity of the most onerous system is not imposed on the least onerous application."