The government has confirmed it will split English Heritage into two new organisations, despite fears over funding and remits for the new bodies
Under the plan, its property-management functions – responsible for around 400 sites including Stonehenge and Osborne House - will become a charitable trust retaining the English Heritage name.
Meanwhile its historic buildings advisory work, which includes dealing with around 2,000 listing requests a year, and providing input on roughly 14,000 planning applications, will become a new non-departmental government organisation called Historic England.
Heritage minister Ed Vaizey said the new English Heritage would be provided with £88.5 million in government funding to aid its transition to charitable trust status over the next few years, towards an aim of making the trust self-sufficient by 2023.
‘This new model for protecting England’s heritage and promoting its precious sites and buildings gives us the best chance for more than a generation to do both,’ he said.
‘The funding will address a backlog of repairs and enable more of our heritage to be made accessible to greater numbers of visitors.’
However, results from a consultation on the proposals that closed earlier this year - but which are published for the first time today - show wide-ranging fears over the plans.
Among them are concerns that the government’s transition funding would not be adequate to clear a deficit of conservation work; and that the aim of self-sufficiency would mean commercial factors were the only driver of investment in the nation’s heritage buildings.
Respondents also said they had not been given enough detail on the plans for Historic England and its future in the light of decreased central-government funding and declining local-authority resources.
Despite assurances that core protection duties would be maintained, they were suspicious of possible future revisions to its remit against a backdrop of the Department for Culture Media & Sport’s stated aim of making Historic Englan’s operations ‘work better for owners, developers and infrastructure providers, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape’ in a way that demonstrated heritage ‘supports sustainable economic growth and job creation’.
However, Freddie Gick, chair of charity Civic Voice – which represents 290 civic societies – said reconfiguring English Heritage would give its management arm an opportunity for ‘innovation and creativity’ in generating new income.
He said: ‘Though we had concerns about some of the assumptions in the English Heritage business plan when originally proposed, we are confident that English Heritage management and trustees will have carefully considered every aspect of the proposal in great detail.’
Previous story (AJ: 20.12.2014)
Shadow minister attacks plans to split English Heritage
Shadow culture minister Helen Goodman has slammed government plans to split English Heritage (EH), saying the plans represented a ‘war of attrition over our heritage’
]Goodman’s attack follows the release by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport of a public consultation paper detailing its plans to chop English Heritage into two organisations.
A new charity will retain the name English Heritage and will manage and conserve the organisation’s 440 sites, while a new arm called Historic England will carry out EH’s existing statutory and advisory role.
‘The government stupidly wrecked the organisation last year in the Regulatory Reform Bill,’ said Goodman. ‘Now English Heritage will be even weaker after the split.’
Goodman is concerned that Historic England, a much smaller organisation than the current body, will not have the power to properly protect England’s heritage sites.
She said: ‘If it is split, will Historic England have the resources to carry out the same work?’
‘We risk a slow deterioration of our heritage. You will see it chipped away slowly – the loss of a garden here or the loss of a house there. Then you will look back in 20 years’ time and realise what a problem it is.’
We risk a slow deterioration of our heritage
‘It really is a war of attrition over our heritage.’
Concerns were also raised by Richard Compton, president of the Historic Houses Association which represents 1,500 privately-owned historic properties.
Compton said: ‘It is imperative that English Heritage’s core functions of championing and safeguarding our nation’s heritage are protected. Our member historic houses depend on its expert advisory service and we would be extremely concerned if this were to be reduced or diluted in any way.’
He added: ‘We will seek assurances that the new Historic England will be able to give priority to its front line advisory services, its statutory role in the planning system and the maintenance of a grants programme for the restoration of historic buildings.’
Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society said that plans for a separate body charged solely with listing and statutory services would be more ‘tightly-focused’ but raised concerns over the funding Historic England would receive.
Croft said: ‘A lot depends on whether [Historic England] has the same clout as English Heritage has now. I hope those key statutory activities are as well-resourced as they are at English Heritage at the moment.’
‘Its success will depend on how well-resourced the new organisation is and on the sort of leadership it has.’
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘Historic England will be substantially reduced in size, but will remain a body of expertise that the government will call on for advice.’