Funding of the arts and heritage - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from Edward Harley, President, Historic Houses Association (Arts 234)

  Further to my appearance before the committee last Tuesday and in response in particular to questions from Tom Watson MP, I enclose some further information on (a) the HHA's concerns on the implementation of regulation to heritage tourism businesses, and (b) the type of projects that we believe might be deemed eligible in future for consideration for HLF funding.

  I would be grateful if this information could be made available to all Members of the committee.

  I also enclose copies of a short HHA document, "Inspirational Places—the Value of Britain's Historic Houses",[70] which puts flesh on some points I made about the cultural, economic, educational and social contribution of privately owned heritage, the challenges that this sector faces and the policy solutions that we have proposed to government.

  We would, of course, be pleased to respond to any further requests for information that the committee may have.

 (a)   Reducing over-regulation of heritage tourism businesses: Note based on a joint representation to government by the National Trust and Historic Houses Association dated July 2010


  Both our organisations support the conclusions of the Elton Review of 2006, which have yet to be fully implemented. The review called for changes to the fees structure to ensure that for larger events the fee reflects only the reasonable costs of local authorities in providing licences. This is particularly important for historic rural venues that may host only one or two major events annually, but have to compete with urban venues holding events throughout the year; both venues are charged the same fee. Elton also proposed a de minimis approach where the licensable activity was small in relation to the overall activity taking place. A good example is a small beer tent in a large event, such as a horse trial or country fair.

Tourism Signage

  We see both an acute problem and, as serious, an underlying absence of a national policy to use brown tourism signs actively to promote tourism, in England especially.

  The acute issue is that the Highways Agency and local authorities interpret the management of brown tourism signs inconsistently and opaquely. As a result, we know of instances of historic houses not being allowed tourism signs or even losing their signs (even when they have paid for them themselves), whilst we see a growing number of brown signs for fast food outlets and garden centres.

  In one vivid example, an HHA historic house in Yorkshire was complimented by a Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs representative inspecting the presentation to the public of works of art which were conditionally exempt from Inheritance Tax. The only criticism made was the house was hard to find. This house has been campaigning for, and has been repeatedly refused, a brown tourism sign!

  Being denied a sign can seriously affect the ability of owners and managers to build up their tourism businesses. There is no appeal and signs may be removed without consultation, even though the attractions themselves bear the cost of signage. Local authorities' resistance, in some cases, to temporary events signage has been perverse and damaging.

  Such problems will recur until there is a coherent policy towards the use of brown signs for active promotion of tourism, as happens much more widely in some other countries. The HHA and NT would readily support DCMS Ministers in discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport, the Highways Agency and local authorities to bring about such a policy. Tourism is a huge economic and regenerative driver for a region's economy and positive signage is an important way of developing the tourism market.

Planning Issues

  The new Planning Policy Statement, PPS 5, is intended to bring the historic environment into the mainstream planning system. We welcome it and the aspiration to reduce complexity and delay. We also welcome the recent review of non-planning consents submitted by Adrian Penfold, and its call for the unification of the various heritage consent regimes.

  However, we still see unnecessary regulatory control, in particular in the way that planning applications for temporary structures, such as marquees, are handled. These structures house special events which can enrich the experience of visitors to historic places, without compromising the historic value of the site. They are temporary and reversible. However, some local authorities treat them as if they were permanent developments and do not appreciate their importance in heritage tourism. We would hope very much that the DCMS would be prepared to act as a champion for a more positive and flexible approach in its discussions at Ministerial level with CLG.

Application of Fire Safety rules to listed bed and breakfast accommodation

  Fire safety is, of course, paramount. However, we see examples of application of fire safety regulations to listed buildings which owe less to a concern for safety concerns than to uniformity, which is often inconsistent with the particularities of historic buildings.

  Requirements for small operations in listed buildings should not necessarily be the same as for large-scale new buildings. Of particular concern is the inconsistent application of regulations from one fire authority to another, which can disproportionately affect viability in certain areas.

Health and Safety

  The application of Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act in circumstances involving natural hazards needs urgent re-consideration. It is at odds with the relaxation of occupier's liabilities on land in other legislation, and undermines our role in opening up the countryside for public access. We also believe that a more flexible definition is needed for the term "so far as is reasonably practicable", as deployed in Health and Safety legislation. The existing definition relies heavily on case law, and its strict application in situations around public safety in the natural or historic environment is constraining.

  Another burden is the considerable effort that has to be invested in ensuring that records are kept after an incident in order to provide our insurers with the basis for a defendable position. Indeed, we find that some unjustified claims proceed and are successful because it is simply uneconomic for insurers to defend some low value claims.

 (b)   Heritage Lottery Fund: funding projects in the privately owned heritage sector: types of project that might be considered as eligible for funding in future

  1. The Historic Houses Association (HHA) enjoys a very positive and constructive relationship with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and values the funding that has been made available, over the course of the HLF's life, to projects in privately owned historic houses that have provided enhanced educational experiences and improved outreach to new audiences.

  2. It should be noted that these projects are very few in number and the necessary procedures for application can be relatively expensive and demanding for a smaller historic house. The number of projects at individual historic houses has been extremely small and partnership projects, although still very limited, have been more successful although these can be challenging to set up. Projects have focused on learning, participation and outreach, thereby deepening and widening access to and enjoyment of heritage.

  3. Policy Directions given to the HLF by the Secretary of State require funding to be limited to: "projects which promote public value and which are not intended primarily for private gain".

  4. Recently, the HHA and HLF have begun to discuss whether and to what extent these Policy Directions allow for a wider interpretation than has previously been the case. The two organisations are conducting these discussions against the background of:

    — the HLF's preparation of a new Strategy for its operations, to come into effect formally from 2013;

    — increasing pressures on maintenance of historic houses and gardens, open to the public, in the private sector;

    — the scale of the public benefits that these places provide;

    — the effective disappearance of grant support for such buildings from English Heritage, its equivalents in the other countries of the UK and local authorities; and

    — the prospect of a significant increase in HLF funding from 2012.

  5. In entering these discussions both organisations have the clear aim to focus on potential projects that would deliver significant public benefit. Both recognise that any private gain resulting from HLF funding should be incidental and minimal, or even non-existent.

  6. The HHA is drawing up a list of the types of projects that it believes might be considered eligible in future. These include:

    — Restoration of historic buildings in the private sector which form part of a larger conservation project in partnership with local organisations in a similar way to the way in which the HLF's Townscape Heritage Initiative and Landscape Partnerships work.

    — Restoration of historic buildings or objects within historic buildings that form a part of a project aimed primarily at increasing participation of new audiences in heritage and/or learning through experience of heritage. Possible examples: conversion of a building into a Visitor Centre, with learning facilities, at a historic house; restoration of a building housing a gallery or other room reserved solely or predominantly for public use (day visiting and/or events); or a room designated for school visits.

    — Physical improvements to historic buildings to enhance the visitor experience and help maximise the tourism potential of historic sites, eg facilities for visitors with disabilities, material improvements; and interpretation, in a similar way to which the NWDA's innovative Heritage Tourism Improvement Scheme has operated.

    — Another possible area for consideration is that of an HLF contribution to enable an acceptance in lieu of Inheritance Tax of a historic object, associated with a historic house, open to the public, to be kept in the house in its traditional location, on the public route (Acceptance in Lieu in situ). The contribution would be ring-fenced for use only on the maintenance of the object in question.

  7. In addition, in the case of projects solely for education or outreach purposes, which are now already eligible, the HHA and HLF are discussing ways in which applications for funding, including development of potential projects, could be made more practicable. For example, where a project relies on a number of historic houses and/or gardens collaborating, which has proved expensive and difficult for individual houses in the past, the possibility of the HHA itself being able to make the application is being considered.

  8. It should be stressed that the discussions are at an early stage and the examples above do not definitively point to the final outcome of the discussions.

  9. It would be very helpful if the committee felt able to support wider interpretation by the HLF of its policy directions so as to enable the types of projects illustrated in paragraph 6 above to be eligible for grant.

November 2010

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