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Councils unfit to protect our heritage, claims EH

English Heritage has published research into the state of Britain's historic building stock, which rubbishes government proposals to hand responsibility for Grade II listings to local authorities.

The organisation's latest survey of the state of the nation's heritage found that local councils were so overstretched that more than 80 per cent of them failed to prosecute illegal alterations in 2002.

Heritage 2003 also concludes that nearly a third of local authorities do not keep registers of listed buildings at risk and three-quarters of conservation areas do not have character appraisals. And it found that authorities have on average fewer than two conservation officers each to deal with an average of 1,200 listed buildings and 28 conservation areas.

The report will provide further ammunition to the heritage body, which is leading opposition against government proposals to allow local authorities to police Grade II listings, as set out in the DCMS's recent listings review.

English Heritage's chief executive Simon Thurley said he expected the government to abandon this proposal: 'We don't believe the government will be able to put the administration of Grade II-listed properties in the hands of the local authorities. There are simply not enough conservation officers to do this. It is not remotely feasible.'

The report demands the government offer more financial support and better training for conservation areas and it claims that 'all over England historic character and distinctiveness is being eroded through poor-quality planning decisions and thoughtless development'.

EH chair Neil Cossons, launching the report this week, called for greater protection, promotion and recognition for England's heritage, 'much of which is in peril'.

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