Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Report

1  Introduction

The inquiry

1. In February 2000 the Government asked English Heritage to co-ordinate a wide-ranging review of all policies relating to the historic environment. On delivering the report to the Secretaries of State who had commissioned it - those for Culture, Media and Sport and for the Environment, Transport and the Regions - the Chairman of English Heritage spoke of the review as a "once in a generation opportunity". That report was Power of Place, published in December 2000; the report made 18 headline recommendations, some for central Government and others for local government, heritage organisations, owners and developers. In his covering letter, the Chairman of English Heritage went on to say that "there is no need for immediate legislation but there is a strong need for immediate action" and that many of the recommendations could be acted upon straight away.

2. Just over five years on from that report, anxiety pervades the sector. Apprehension about the future capacity of English Heritage, a lack of confidence in the standing of heritage within Government priorities and in the commitment of DCMS, the impact of the successful London bid to host the 2012 Olympics and uncertainty over the amount which will be available from the Lottery for heritage have combined to generate widespread alarm throughout the heritage sector.

3. The Committee therefore concluded that the time was ripe for an inquiry to raise the profile of heritage and its wider value, hear the arguments from a sector which claimed to have been neglected, and identify ways of changing policy in such a way as to meet priorities of both Government and those actively involved in protecting and preserving heritage. In doing so, we note that this is the first inquiry by a Parliamentary select committee to take a broad-based look at the nation's built heritage since 1994.[1]

4. Our inquiry has been given added impetus by the imminent publication of a long-trailed Heritage White Paper, flowing from a review of the heritage protection regime.

Course of the inquiry

5. The inquiry was announced on 15 November 2005. The terms of reference were:

—  What the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should identify as priorities in the forthcoming Heritage White Paper;

—  The remit and effectiveness of DCMS, English Heritage and other relevant organisations in representing heritage interests inside and outside Government;

—  The balance between heritage and development needs in planning policy;

—  Access to heritage and the position of heritage as a cultural asset in the community;

—  Funding, with particular reference to the adequacy of the budget for English Heritage and for museums and galleries, the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on Lottery funding for heritage projects, and forthcoming decisions on the sharing of funds from Lottery sources between good causes;

—  What the roles and responsibilities should be for English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, local authorities, museums and galleries, charitable and other non-Governmental organisations in maintaining the nation's heritage; and

—  Whether there is an adequate supply of professionals with conservation skills; the priority placed by planning authorities on conservation; and means of making conservation expertise more accessible to planning officers, councillors and the general public.

6. The call for evidence elicited a tremendous response, so much so that the Committee decided that it would be unrealistic to address in a single report issues relating to built heritage, museums and galleries, cultural property and archives. In this report we concentrate upon the historic environment, namely built heritage and archaeology. The evidence which we received on heritage objects (including works of art), the museums sector, archives and cultural heritage, although not central to this report, has nonetheless been published and we intend to draw upon it for a follow-up inquiry.[2] We are as always grateful to those who made submissions.

7. For oral evidence we heard from amenity societies, the National Trust (as the largest charitable owner of heritage assets), the Historic Houses Association and the Country Land and Business Association, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Heritage Link (an umbrella body for the sector), English Heritage, and the two Government departments most closely involved in built heritage - the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (now the Department for Communities and Local Government). We also devoted part-sessions to the church estate (including redundant churches), archaeological heritage, urban regeneration using heritage assets, and the view from professional organisations representing local authority practitioners.

8. We undertook two visits in connection with the inquiry. The first, to Lincoln, illustrated the problems faced by a regional city acknowledging the need to do more to protect its historic assets, which include an iconic building - Lincoln Cathedral - where maintenance is a particular challenge. In the course of the day we also travelled to Doddington Hall, just outside the city, to gain an impression of the position for private owners of substantial houses of architectural merit. A second visit, to Liverpool, demonstrated the potential of urban heritage buildings to reinvigorate localities in danger of decline. We gained a great deal from both visits and wish to record our thanks to our hosts.

9. We also had the assistance of two Specialist Advisers: Mr Bob Kindred, currently Borough Conservation Officer at Ipswich Borough Council and a founding Director of the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation; and Mr David Sekers, a trustee of Heritage Link with experience of heritage and museum management. We are most grateful to them both for their contributions.

What constitutes the historic environment?

10. The historic environment covers a huge range:

  • Buildings, ensembles and sites of international significance, some of which are recognised as World Heritage Sites;
  • Set piece country houses and estates, built as displays of wealth, impressive in scale and splendour and now in many cases major tourist attractions;
  • Ecclesiastical buildings, from cathedrals through urban Victorian churches to rural parish churches or chapels, both in active use and redundant. Some are extravagant in concept, some very humble;
  • Townscapes, composed often of buildings which are familiar to people and have played a direct part in their lives (such as schools, civic buildings and pubs). Very often such buildings will be the focus of conservation areas;
  • Surface, maritime and below ground archaeology;
  • Commercial and industrial buildings, many of which date from the Industrial Revolution;
  • Civic buildings constructed to house public services;
  • Historic parks and gardens, cemeteries, battlefields, monuments; and
  • The repertoire of individual domestic and vernacular buildings of all ages which populate the country.

11. It is important to remember that, in heritage terms, we are dealing not just with individual buildings but with ensembles and indeed settings such as gardens and parklands. A Georgian town house is likely to be worthy of preservation in its own right; but a street of such houses acquires a wholeness which is easily lost. Likewise, a more workaday urban neighbourhood may derive its character from the haphazardness of its assembly; yet it is the overall character which may be valued as much as the ingredients. The same can apply to large sites dating from the 20th century such as university campuses: we were told that landscaping and buildings were often integrated in such a way that "if you destroy one you destroy the quality of the other".[3]

The value of heritage

12. At a fundamental level, heritage buildings and monuments have an intrinsic value, expressing our culture and creative skills. They are distinct to the nation and reflect our identity. Once destroyed, heritage assets (particularly archaeological sites such as round barrows or hill forts) cannot be recreated.[4]

13. The benefits of the historic environment are wide and extend beyond the core DCMS remit. Contributors to the inquiry frequently pointed to the improved quality of life and the "sense of place" which the historic environment provides.[5] At a time when the Government is attaching high priority to the regeneration of urban settings and the wellbeing of communities, the role that heritage buildings can play as a source of local pride and in providing a focus for redevelopment should not be underestimated. In Lincoln, for example, much of the historic core lies adjacent to deprived wards; the City Council told us that investment in the historic environment had provided employment opportunities and better access to services and facilities, and that it had contributed to regeneration and social inclusion.[6] Others made similar points and suggested that the link between heritage and regeneration led to economic prosperity, something which was increasingly being recognised.[7]

14. The former ODPM Select Committee undertook a thorough investigation in 2004 into the role of historic buildings in urban regeneration,[8] and its conclusions are often cited by the sector. We saw evidence of the impact of heritage-led regeneration in Liverpool, particularly in the Rope Walks area, where grant incentives from the City Council had acted as a catalyst, attracting innovative developers to take on the adaptation and re-use of decaying commercial structures. Early investment in public realm - in particular new squares - enhanced the sense of neighbourhood and inspired confidence among the public and stakeholders in the area's viability. A similar approach, using high quality public realm as a catalyst, was used in Grainger Town in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[9] Lincoln City Council also stressed the benefits of public realm in creating a high quality setting for the historic fabric and a gateway to the historic area. The necessary funding for enhancement of public realm was however difficult to secure in Lincoln outside designated regeneration areas; the Council noted that the majority of funding streams were output-focused and that it was "difficult to make a case that public realm improvements … contributed direct economic or employment benefits".[10]

15. Many witnesses emphasised that the success of heritage-led regeneration depended on good communication of the value of heritage at an early stage so that potential conflicts could be resolved with better understanding of the positions on both sides.[11] We heard that developers were increasingly recognising that heritage and development were not inevitably in conflict.[12]

16. Another strength of conservation-led regeneration is its environmental sustainability; the Campaign to Protect Rural England stated that refurbishment often used less energy and fewer resources in the long run, and others put forward the same argument.[13] Adaptive re-use (where practicable) was seen as the ideal, although it was generally acknowledged that some building types and structures would not be suitable for a new use without a level of alteration that would devalue their intrinsic merit and that finding sympathetic new uses for some redundant historic buildings could be so challenging that few, if any, workable proposals were brought forward.[14]

17. Major heritage sites attract significant levels of tourism. VisitBritain told us that culture and heritage "remains the main appeal of any consumer interest in Britain - both internationally and domestically".[15] The benefits attributable directly to heritage (and the local income which would not have been generated had the heritage asset not existed) are difficult to calculate. The Cathedrals Fabric Commission placed a possible figure of £91 million on the direct economic impact per annum of visitors to cathedrals: it suggested that this figure would rise to £150 million if indirect impacts were to be included.[16]

Structure of the report

18. Even having selected the historic environment as a focus for this report, the scale of the subject was still so large that we could have held an inquiry into any one of a number of strands, such as the listing process, ecclesiastical buildings, the state of archaeological practice, or class consents. Some of these have recently been examined thoroughly by DCMS (or are due for review in the near future). Our inquiry is not therefore an attempt to resolve all the issues raised in evidence: it is a bird's eye view report, looking at the overall approach by Government and others to historic environment policy. We hope to achieve some political impetus for wider recognition in Government and among the public of the value of built heritage to people's lives.

19. Our starting point is to look at the main players, their roles and their success in performing in those roles. We then look at the structures and policies which have grown up to recognise and protect the built environment. These two sections form the bulk of the report. We then examine two thematic issues: places of worship and engagement by the public.

1   Third Report of the National Heritage Committee, HC139, Session 1993-94, Our Heritage, preserving it, prospering from it. Back

2   See main volume of written evidence, published as HC 912-II, Session 2005-06. Additional written evidence is published along with oral evidence in HC 912-III, Session 2005-06. All footnote references to written evidence are to page numbers in HC 912-II unless specified otherwise. Back

3   Ms Cherry and Mr Wilkinson Q 7 Back

4   Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers Ev 44; Dr O'Reilly Q 113 Back

5   Architectural Heritage Fund Ev 15; ALGAO Ev 44 Back

6   Memorandum by Lincoln City Council [not printed] Back

7   Head of Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeology Service Ev 71; Dr Thurley Q 357 Back

8   The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration: Eleventh Report from the ODPM Select Committee, Session 2003-04, HC47-I Back

9   Q 355 Back

10   Memorandum by Lincoln City Council [not printed] Back

11   For instance Manchester City Council Ev 235; ALGAO Ev 46; and Heritage Link Ev 159 Back

12   Mr Gill Q 154; see also AHF Ev 16 and Heritage Link Ev 159 Back

13   Ev 74, Maintain Our Heritage Ev 232 Back

14   Mr Babb Q 136 Back

15   Ev 344; also Mr Burton Q 62 Back

16   Ev 79 Back

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