Citadel of the Scots
Reading the land
Great sites: Meols
Editor Simon Denison
Time for some New Year resolutions
Will the new historic environment policy bring any good cheer, asks George Lambrick
We are now one election, two ministers and eight months down the line from when the Government's statement on policy on the historic environment in England was originally due - it should now be out by the time you read this.
With English Heritage, Cadw and the Welsh Royal Commission subject to quinquennial reviews, the Scottish Ancient Monuments Board under threat and the Scottish Royal Commission due for restructuring, the organisation of our state historic environment services is also now under scrutiny. On top of all this, a new three-year public spending review is upon us, the Heritage Lottery Fund is developing an updated strategy, and one of the biggest areas of subsidy - the support of farming - is under radical review. All offer opportunities to do more to maximise public benefit from the historic environment.
December is the traditional time for both new resolutions and presents, so what do we want to come out of all this scrutiny? Will good resolutions fade into nothingness for lack of real commitment? Will we get even a hint of presents in terms of new resources?
Education and training are the key to the appreciation and proper management of the historic environment. One welcome resolution would be to increase support for archaeology and history in our schools and through informal initiatives like the Young Archaeologists' Club. This will not just help children learn about the past, but provide other educational benefits too - including literacy, numeracy and cultural awareness.
Another resolution should be to provide more support and partnerships with the voluntary sector to develop wider public participation. This is not just a matter of hand-outs - charitable organisations must also pull themselves up by their own boot straps, as the CBA's current appeal illustrates. But as we pointed out to the Heritage Lottery earlier this year, an excellent way to invest in the heritage is to help the voluntary sector build its own capacity for fund-raising and development.
Partnership is de rigeur these days, but there seems little recognition that the equally fashionable mantra of 'lead bodies' is often its antithesis, tending to diminish any sense of responsibility and involvement for those not in the driving seat. It is a problem that seems to bedevil otherwise excellent projects like the Local Heritage Initiative which is falling short of its targets because links between the countryside and heritage networks have never been developed from mere liaison into properly resourced partnerships.
In government, the problem is institutionalised in the blinkeredness of departmental 'lead' roles, which allows other departments to downgrade their responsibilities. In the case of heritage, where the 'lead' department is dcms, this was exemplified by a recent consultation on defra's strategic objectives, which failed to recognise heritage conservation as one of its key environmental objectives - despite its statutory obligations under agriculture and environment legislation (and its growing commitment to the issue).
A resolution that would help overcome this over-rated idea of 'lead bodies' would be for all official bodies to recognise a lead responsibility for the historic environment as far as their activities affect it. This could help to refocus the core functions of specialist historic environment agencies, such as English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw, as expert cross-government advisors. It is time to stop treating them as a species of super-ngo (non-government organisation), reliant on an ill-defined mixture of state aid and commercial enterprise that exposes key statutory duties to the volatility of consumer confidence and tourism.
Another key resolution should be to develop a strategy to clarify, rationalize and update the present plethora of legislation, regulation and guidance. In planning, a much stronger culture of conservation-led design, integrated environmental management and early consultation is needed. Similarly, it is vital to do more to enhance current information systems, like Sites and Monuments Records, to support all aspects of historic environment policy.
But the real test of any fine resolutions is whether there will be resources to implement them. Several key aspects of archaeology need more support if the Valletta Convention is to be properly implemented (see Briefing). Agricultural subsidies must be switched from contributing to damage to supporting conservation. Local historic environment services must be given more resources and statutory backing, and the voluntary sector given more support. vat and other taxes and regulations should be removed where they inhibit sustainable management of the cultural heritage.
We may get some reasonably good New Year resolutions, but will they mean much if we get no more than a few stocking fillers to back them up?
George Lambrick is Director of the CBA
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005