Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the City of Winchester Trust

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

  The Trust was founded in 1957 to preserve the character of Winchester. It has never been our intention to oppose change in Winchester but to ensure that change should be so managed that we retain not only our many important buildings, but the city's unique character amongst the few remaining historic towns which relate directly to their surrounding countryside. We have already sent you a copy of our proposal that such cities should be recognised as needing special consideration (Heritage Town Status), in somewhat the same manner as Conservation Areas.

  Government devises policies to achieve various nationally important objectives and of course we have no quarrel with this, but in doing so it often fails to take into account the effect upon such vulnerable entities as small historic towns. The overall policy change introduced by PPG3, for example, is commendable in general, but overlooks the effects on places like Winchester. The otherwise excellent accompanying guidance (Better Places to Live By Design) is written entirely for larger conurbations—no examples are given which would be applicable to our needs, and no expert advice appears to be available either. Seeking guidance from the regional government office, a local planning officer was told to use Poundbury as an example for increasing village density!

  It is probable that, if thought of at all, the authors of both the policy and the guidance believed that the local authorities would take care of the special needs of historic towns. But this is not the case: inadequately resourced local authorities are under such pressure to meet planning targets that they can give no priority to the retention of character and, where they even recognise the need to do so, they have no appropriate skills in-house nor adequate finance to hire it. And, to be frank, few local councillors even understand the issues.

  It would therefore be advantageous to require them to make more use of the voluntary expertise provided by amenity societies. Hampshire County Council instituted some years ago a system of trusts for the distribution of heritage funding, with the result that the money went much further due to the input of voluntary effort and expertise, often of the highest quality.

  The Trust therefore asks that the Committee gives priority to considering how local government can be obliged and helped to fulfil its responsibilities for the priceless and vulnerable examples of the nation's heritage, and to seek more help from voluntary sources.

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

  The DCMS must of course enable English Heritage and other organisations to carry out the functions for which they were founded. Most endeavour to do their job effectively, but tend to be inhibited by lack of funds. We understand that English heritage has had no increase in funding for grant purposes since 1999. Grants are a particularly effective use of Government funding—local authorities, institutions and private owners are thereby encouraged to use their own funds in order to invest in the care of the nation's heritage. A small private school will, for example, be urged by its bursar to allocate money to the repair of a Roman wall in its grounds if this attracts funds by means of grant aid. Without the aid, the governors will naturally give preference to educational purposes.

  This Trust has been disappointed to see the steady decline in the effectiveness of its parent organisation, the Civic Trust, which without adequate funding has ceased to campaign in the way it once did—in promoting the hugely effective Conservation Area legislation, for example.

  The Trust therefore asks that the Committee give consideration to improvement in policy-related grant aid in order to help heritage organisations to become more effective in carrying out their functions and raising matching funding for the purpose.

3.  The balance between heritage and development needs in planning policy

  It should not, we feel, be a question of rivalry between heritage and development needs. Development and heritage can co-exist; even support each other if policy is intelligently framed so that the needs of each are recognised by the other. One important aspect is that heritage interests appear to many to be restrictive upon development. This has come about because of a misunderstanding of the meaning of "conservation" when applied to buildings and their ambience. Except in relatively rare and special cases, buildings must be profitably used—they are living entities unlike, for example, manuscripts. Consequently adaptation and change are desirable in the care of an historic building where they would be anathema with an historic manuscript.

  Conservation officers are vital for the care of heritage, but the growing recognition of the importance of our heritage in recent years has led to an emphasis on an archaeological approach which is inappropriate for buildings in use. This has introduced an imbalance between heritage and development which is bringing conservation into disrepute.

  The Trust therefore asks that the Committee give consideration to legislation, or at least guidance which will place responsibilities on those responsible for both development and heritage to understand and accommodate each others' needs.

4.  Access to heritage and the position of heritage as a cultural asset in the community

  We believe that local government needs better guidance on how to improve access and to realise all the advantages of the cultural assets of the built environment. Great and even lesser buildings, museums and so forth are now generally managed with expertise by those responsible, but such features as the remnants of city walls, old road patterns and the like tend to be valued only by cognoscenti.

  The Trust therefore asks that the Committee give consideration to how examples of the best in heritage management may be more widely disseminated, and how local authorities might be encouraged to make fuller use of their heritage.

5.  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

  The Trust has already expressed views on the inadequacy of funding for English Heritage under point 2., but would like to stress again that to make no increase in funding for EH for the past seven years is equivalent to a sizeable cut in its budget which was already inadequate for it responsibilities. If the primary body set up by the Government to care for the nation's heritage is under-funded it is bound to have a depressing effect both in practice and morale upon all those who work in heritage, many with little or no remuneration. It is not only a question of whether our leaders value the depleted but surviving heritage as important—surely a fundamental aspect of the current interest in "Britishness"—but as the as the primary draw for tourists and the not inconsiderable income they bring to this country.

  Like many others, we fear that the funding drawn off for the Olympics will never be replaced either as a one-off deduction or as a proportion of as annual funds devoted to heritage. Much damage is already being done by the improper use of Lottery funding for matters which should be met from general taxation.

  The Trust therefore asks the Committee to give consideration to calculating the loss to the heritage caused by Lottery funding of the Olympics, and to make provision for the replacement of this loss by an increase in heritage funding over a specific period of years. Further, we hope that the Committee will address the question of whether it is right to continue using Lottery funds for matters which should be met from Government sources.

6.  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

  Following recent rationalisation of their role, we believe that there is little need for further change in the primary responsibilities of English Heritage, and that it is of the greatest importance that it remains the senior body responsible for heritage matters. We would, however, wish to see English Heritage given more responsibility for advising and monitoring the activities of other bodies, particularly local authorities (with of course the additional resources to do so effectively). This is because of the lack of specialist knowledge and experience affordable (even where the need is understood) by local authorities.

The Trust therefore asks that the Committee give consideration to extending the role of English Heritage to assist and monitor the heritage activities of local authorities.

7.  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

  At present it is impossible for local authorities to afford the level of expertise necessary to fulfil the obligations which have been delegated to them by Government and by English Heritage, especially where there are many historic buildings (and conservation areas) in their area; they have no more funding for the purpose than authorities with only a few such buildings. Conservation officers seldom have the full training and experience required and few have architectural training which is necessary to deal with the design element of their job. Councillors and senior officers are seldom able to understand the issues, and either rely too heavily on inadequate junior specialist officers, or fail to employ any at all.

  Hampshire County Council (cooperating with EH) once provided an accessible centre of expertise to assist local authorities and other bodies, which was known as the "Historic Buildings Bureau". The Bureau was disbanded some years ago as the County's funds were progressively reduced. The loss of this accumulated expertise, experience and influence has been a tragedy because it has in no way been compensated for at district level.

  The Trust therefore asks the Committee to find a means of funding the necessary level of expertise for authorities in proportion to their responsibility for historic buildings and conservation areas, and to investigate the possibility of re-introducing expert bureaux at county level to assist district councils and charitable organisations to make them more effective and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and expense.

18 January 2006

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