THE DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT have launched a consultation paper which proposes a radical shake-up of the way in which England's historic environment is protected. At present, archaeological sites, historic buildings, conservation areas, historic battlefields, parks and gardens and World Heritage Sites are protected under different systems. Each system is governed by legislation conferring different degrees of protection, with different routes for obtaining consent for changes.
The government now proposes a single list--the 'List of Historic Sites and Buildings of England'--which would include any type of archaeologically, historically or architecturally important site protected by the existing legislation, as well as important historic areas and landscapes, which are at present largely unprotected. All of the some 500,000 scheduled monuments, listed buildings and so on would be transferred to the new list. New entries would cease to be the responsibility of the Secretary of State, but would be made by English Heritage, working to official guidelines. Owners, local authorities and the community would be consulted when new entries to the list were being considered (and owners would have a right of appeal against listing), but heritage assets would be protected during the consultation and appeal process. Each entry in the list would be defined not merely in words, as at present, but by a map and a statement of significance, giving a precise definition of what is listed and why. Owners of listed assets would be given packs explaining the significance to the heritage of their property and how to get help and advice on its maintenance. There would be two parts to the list, a national section, and a local list containing assets of what the government describes as of local concern only, such as conservation areas. The government is unsure whether or not to grade entries in the new list (listed buildings, and parks and gardens currently are graded, scheduled monuments are not), and whether or not the lowest grade of listed building should be down-graded to the local list.
There would be a single consent regime for changes to items on the list, administered by local authorities, with a duty to consult English Heritage on important issues. The government would wish to see a closer definition drawn up for each entry on the list of what changes would affect its heritage interest and thus require consent.
A major problem with this new system is likely to be resources, especially human ones. Local authority conservation and heritage staff are few in number and already stretched by the day-to-day work of development control. Most local authorities cannot find the staff time to provide the appraisals of conservation areas that are required by statute, so that, for example, 75 per cent of conservation areas lack appraisals. The government's preferred solution is to create 'a pooled resource at subregional level', bringing together experts on archaeology, architecture and heritage to provide advice to local authorities.
Launching the report, the Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh said the aim of the review was 'to take a root and branch look at all the different systems of protection for our historic environment. We need a system fit for the twenty-first century, with proper safeguards.'
The consultation paper proposes dismantling entirely the current system, and it contains a host of new suggestions, some of which will he welcomed. At the moment, parks, gardens, battlefields and World Heritage Sites are designated, but designation brings little or no extra protection; the governments proposals would bring them within the umbrella of statutory protection. …