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No alternative for heritage chief as crippling cuts went unaided

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Two weeks ago (AJ 17.2.05) we published a letter from Alasdair Glass at English Heritage (EH) correcting a statement that Simon Allford had made in his column about the date when recession of windows became mandatory. I'm sure Simon didn't mind - he is a practitioner not a historian. Aspiring to be a Renaissance man of contemporary architecture, with wide-ranging interests and expertise, he may know a lot about many things but is unlikely to know everything about any of them.

But this is precisely the sort of expertise that EH has.

We may not always agree with all of its interventions, we may think that writers like Glass are somewhat pedantic, but most of us believe that EH's aims are generally good.

(That 'most of us' excludes our other columnist, Martin Pawley, although with him one always suspects 'he only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases'). And with universities and museums strapped for cash, it is one of the few remaining repositories of specialist knowledge.

So, at first, it looks almost wilful of EH chief executive Simon Thurley to decide to lose a quarter of his architects. But Thurley is a shrewd operator, and he has only made this move because he was forced into it. The government's cuts, announced at the end of last year, were severe enough that they could not all be absorbed in what the government cheerfully calls 'efficiency'. EH had already tightened its belt and there had already been some staff cuts. As Thurley saw it, there was no alternative to cutting his architectural team.

This was made even more unavoidable by the fact that there was little chance of the situation improving. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) explained in December that there was no chance of a windfall for heritage because the emphasis was shifting to sports and healthy living. But even if DCMS is too blinkered to be concerned about damaging a centre of scholastic excellence, its drive to get us all off our sofas embraces not only a desire to have us playing strenuous sports, but also to make us walk more. So crippling an organisation that helps to give us an environment in which we may actually want to walk makes little sense.

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