Peter J. LarkhamandHeather Barrett
In 1979, the Queen’s Speech contained a ringing commitment to ‘bring forward measures to protect our national heritage of historic buildings and artistic treasures’. What is unforgivable, a decade later, is that ministers should have quite forgotten these words, even though membership of the National Trust exceeds two million, showing that more people care for the preservation of our heritage then ever before.
Continuity, consolidation or change?
Conservation is an elusive subject to address in an analysis of political influences in planning. To a considerable extent the key trend has been continuity. Legislative and administrative systems for conserving the built environment had been put in place long before 1979, operating on both national and local scales. Key high-profile heritage events, which served both to raise consciousness of the importance of conservation and to shape future approaches, had already happened: including European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975, and the shock sale of Mentmore Towers in 1977 (see House of Commons (1978) for a critical commentary on this key event). Conservation since 1979 simply continued along lines already laid down.
Yet there have been developments in these systems. The Mentmore sale provoked an inquiry by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee and a White Paper by the outgoing Labour administration. The new Conservative government then ‘moved surprisingly quickly. By the Spring of 1980 a new Act reached the statute book setting up an entirely new body, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, with independent trustees