Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by English Heritage




  1.1  English Heritage (EH) is the Government's lead body for the protection and public enjoyment of the historic environment. It is sponsored through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and was established in 1984 as an NDPB to take on arms-length responsibility for a range of executive and advisory functions previously carried out within the Department of the Environment and, following its abolition, the Greater London Council. Since 1999 it has incorporated the survey and archive functions of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Following the passage of the National Heritage Bill (2002), its powers will be extended to include responsibility for maritime archaeology in English coastal waters and the freedom to operate and trade overseas.

  1.2  Other DCMS NDPBs tend to be focused either on front-line service delivery (eg the national museums) or on arm's-length sectoral support (eg Sport England, Arts Council, Re:Source etc). EH, by contrast, has functions that encompass statutory regulation, front-line service delivery, and arm's-length support of the wider historic environment sector.


  2.1  In 1999, the Select Committee concluded that the DCMS had failed to develop a clear framework of objectives for the historic environment sector. It also noted that English Heritage was not being encouraged to make a sufficiently strong contribution to the social and environmental priorities or other government departments. In particular the Committee was concerned that there needed to be a better balance between the interests of cultural access (as championed by the DCMS) and the sustainable management of the built historic environment through the planning process (as led at that time by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions). Since 1999, EH and the DCMS have made the resolution of these concerns a top priority.

  2.2  In 2000 at the joint invitation of the DCMS and DETR, EH coordinated a sector-wide review of policies for the historic environment, whose recommendations were published under the title Power of Place. The Government's response to that review, The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future, was published in November 2001 and provides for the first time a comprehensive statement of Government's priorities for the sector as a whole, and its expectations of English Heritage as its lead body.

  2.3  In the autumn of 2001 the DCMS initiated a quinquennial review of English Heritage's recent performance and its fitness to deliver the new strategic priorities and outcomes spelled out in A Force for Our Future. The Stage 1 report of this review is due to be published in the middle of May. EH has argued strongly that its overall statutory purposes remain valid and that its current range of advisory and executive functions should in the interests of synergy, cohesion and efficiency remain under unified management. At the same time, EH has proposed that it will in future give priority to the streamlining of its operations; to the development of its role as a leader for the sector, and to the enhancement of its educational and research role.


  3.1  In response to Power of Place and in anticipation of A Force For Our Future, EH has taken a fresh look at its current functions and how these need to be adapted to meet the needs of the wider heritage community with whose public, private and voluntary sector members it will in future need to work in increasingly close partnership. In the process it has identified five fundamental priorities that its Commissioners have agreed should form the foundation of its new Strategic Plan for 2003-04 to 2007-08.

    —  Providing stronger policy and professional leadership for the sector both nationally and in the regions.

    —  Broadening public understanding of the historic environment, leading to greater practical involvement by people in its conservation and enhancement.

    —  Shifting the emphasis of conservation from costly emergency repair to preventive maintenance, through advice, grant-aid and fiscal incentives.

    —  Increasing the capacity of the whole sector through professional training and the fostering of public-private-voluntary sector partnerships.

    —  Ensuring that Government and the sector are supported by robust evidence about the character, condition and socio-economic value of the historic environment.

  3.2  In the more immediate future, the six most significant priorities facing EH under the chairmanship of Sir Neil Cossons and the leadership of its very newly-appointed Chief Executive, Dr Simon Thurley, will be:

    —  Maintaining the powerful forum of public, private and voluntary sector heritage partners that was brought together by EH to forge the new vision for the sector set out in Power of Place.

    —  Working in the context of the Planning Green Paper to reform the existing system of statutory protection in ways that benefit the historic environment, encourage creative development, and reduce the burden of bureaucracy on owners.

    —  Enabling the development of policies at a national level that are responsive to the emerging needs and perspectives of the Regions while ensuring that historic places of national importance continue to be maintained to core standards.

    —  Developing a new cross-Departmental understanding that allows EH to contribute to the policy objectives of the DTLR and DEFRA as well as those of the DCMS.

    —  Radically modernising EH's internal operating processes, including a major streamlining and re-focusing of its historic properties business.

    —  Ensuring that Government and all other interested parties work together to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the long-standing problem of Stonehenge, including delivery of a new world class visitor centre and the environmentally-sensitive upgrading of the A303 trunk road.

  3.3  Critical to English Heritage's success in delivering this new and demanding agenda will be the outcome of the current SR2002 Comprehensive Spending Review. Especially with regard to the Government's ability to deliver the Stonehenge project and EH's ability to support the new lead-role priorities of A Force for Our Future without compromising the delivery of its existing services to the public and the sector.


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