The Big Heritage Manifesto (part 1)

On the 14th and 15th July the HLF are staging a ‘Heritage Exchange’ event at which professionals and academics from across a wide spectrum of heritage and related fields will come together to discuss some of the most crucial issues facing heritage in Britain today.

The event will be being live streamed and there is information and material for discussion in the form of exploratory papers and blogs on the website at http://www.heritageexchange.co.uk.

As a young person developing my critical understanding and professional skills, I am excited to be attending with so many inspirational characters and I am looking forward to seeing what the discussions hold.

I’ve titled this post the ‘Big Heritage Manifesto’ because the event essentially aims to get to the core of the issues affecting heritage and its place in the world. There are many important things happening in the heritage world at the moment – such as the delivery of a new, broader, NHPP, and the continued struggle to arrest the decline in local authority historic environment services, along with both day to day heritage protection – and this requires keen strategic planning, skilled management and effective lobbying. But in addition to these technical processes, there are more fundamental principles which are in play and which are much less frequently considered with a view to how we might change the direction of travel for the entire sector over the coming decade or more.

In anticipation of what might be said next week, I intend to share just a couple of my thoughts in a few posts and relate where we need to make the greatest efforts in out future heritage work…

1)     Heritage cross-cuts numerous social and environmental sectors: We must be better at linking with other organisations within and outside the historic environment.

Making the sector more politically relevant has been key to political initiatives in heritage for decades, whether it is aligning heritage with environmental rhetoric of the 70s and 80s, New Labour’s social inclusion policies in the 2000s, or the Conservative’s Big Society agenda in the 2010s. However beyond this a far more fundamental recognition of how heritage is implicitly connected to, or how it can be complementary to, other social and environmental issues would be a much more productive step in solidifying the sector as a societally important group.

Partnerships with third sector organisations across education, natural environment, civic, and urban and rural development sectors must be strengthened. They should become standard operating practice. English Heritage now work with Natural England to ensure built heritage is included more seamlessly with natural land management strategies and with CABE on various built environment issues, as well as with others. This is all valuable collaboration, but such partnerships need to be more visible, more vocal, and importantly, be publicly and explicitly codified, providing a basis for agreed principles to support mutually supported policy directions. Politicians and the public need to see that they stare down a broad Social/Environmental sector with combined public support which feeds its political power. Moreover we as professionals need to feel that this is the case. We need to work to create this feeling of unity.

I should like to see multilateral publications with the RSPB, National Trust, CPRE and IHBC on climate change; campaigns by the Heritage Alliance, CABE, Locality and the Civic Trust on urban regeneration; and a network of local and volunteer groups with cross-sectoral connections which could work together wherever an issue required it.

These formal alliances would be a much more powerful force for advocacy, strengthening the position of the small sectors which on their own struggle to gain political traction. The recent example of the ‘Cut the VAT’ campaign highlights how diverse organisations can come together where policy aims cohere. This would be facilitated if more formal discussion of policy positions were had and prior agreements made on priorities and cultural/environmental manifestos agreed.

Combined resources would also make for more flexible campaigning, allowing smaller bodies to operate more complex advocacy strategies. As the National Trust, with its significant resources, took on the government over the NPPF, so could the IHBC, IfA, National Amenity Societies and Heritage Alliance combine together with other organisations in other sectors to ensure a similar resource and combined clout to run savvy public relations campaigns on any particular issue.

Of course, the sector has been deeply riven with historically entrenched ideologies and policy differences. This needs to change. I feel that, rather than these differences being in the ideological DNA of particular sectors, more often they result from a lack of effort or interest in issues outside of one’s own small pigeon-hole. This might be easily reconciled, or it may come down to a new generation to start again from a new point of necessity. Moreover other sectors might be difficult to persuade on grounds that built heritage is probably the smallest and currently most politically isolated and that they need us less than we need them. But nonetheless, firm ethical groundings do exist and could easily form the basis of at least a loose coalition, which could grow in time.

Perhaps more controversially than cross-sector NGO partnership, heritage bodies might also look to develop relationships with developers and businesses with the aim of working with them from the earliest stages of design and planning for developments in order to have the greatest chance of securing positive environmental change (and this goes equally for nature conservation as much as built heritage). Sir Terry Farrell recently said that the era of belief that we must have conservation OR modern architecture is over, but extending that we might posit that we must now change the fundamental relationship that heritage has always had with development, changing it from an adversarial system of comment/judgement, to one where we actively aim to help each other achieve each others goals in service of maximised social, environmental and economic benefit.

Of course, there is a second and equally fundamental portion of the equation which must be tackled simultaneously and that is the need for massive, grass-roots public engagement. I will move on to this in Part 2.

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What’s in a name? Considering national heritage agency titles

It seems as though 2014/15 is going to be a busy year for the national heritage agencies in England, Scotland and Wales. Each is undergoing a substantial reorganisation, with English Heritage splitting to form a new charity and reformed/reduced Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), in Scotland, Historic Scotland will merge with the Royal Commission for Historic and Ancient Monuments (RCHAMS), and in Wales the merger of the Royal Commission was discussed and sheleved amid plans for a revised heritage regulatory framework. One of the things that will be changing is the names of some of the organisations that will emerge on the other side.

This might seem a relatively minor matter when considered against the wider strategic and organisational shape of the bodies involved, which will potentially influence the direction of the next few decades of heritage management, but it does have some important impacts.

For one, a name (along with the logo, if you are semiotically inclined) is the most visible and recognisable part of the organisation. But in the context of a change of direction it also signifies, in the most ultimately distilled way, the meaning and purpose of the organisation and is the summary of who you are and what you do. It will provide most people’s first impression, and for some members of the public, their only one.

The sector has an interesting history of name changes:

In 1984 the Department of the Environment consulted on the future of the management of the Historic Building and Monuments division of the department. It suggested that the new name was critically important. Incidentally, it’s instruction was that it absolutely, under no circumstances should contain the words ‘national’ or ‘heritage’.  The unquestionably dull but fairly descriptive Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Commission was born. It immediately became English Heritage to almost everyone, much to the chargrin of those DoE civil servants… probably.

The Scottish Officer’s Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate (HBM) became Historic Scotland in 1991.

And English Nature became Natural England in 2006 after amalgating the Countryside Agency and Rural Development Service…. Everyone’s still confused.

2014:

English Heritage have baffled with their lack of innovation by mirroring that move/copying Historic Scotland in inventing the name Historic England for the renamed NDPB which will take over government advice.

The trouble here is that English Heritage will continue to exist in charity form to manage the collections, meaning that whenever anyone (read, everyone) trips over their own tongues to say Historic England when they mean English Heritage, or English Heritage when they mean Historic England, we won’t be able to be decipher their meaning.

The Scots, meanwhile, maintain their more sensible record. Historic Scotland will not be re-branding as the organisation attempts to preserve the brand recognition it currently enjoys. will be changing the official title of the merged body to Historic Environment Scotland, but is likely to retain the brand Historic Scotland for the collections/membership arm of the business. The government advice team will them move within government to become the Historic Environment Policy Unit (HEPU). (Edited: Thanks Ian Baxter and VGC for pointing that out)

The Welsh have truly stuck to their guns, maintaining the same name – Cadw – since 1984 and the founding of the first Welsh Office directorate.

I think that there are at least 2 important considerations in a name:

i)       Description

ii)      Recognition

Together these create the public image or brand for an organisation.

i) There was a descriptive logic to the names of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and similarly the Historic Environment Policy Unit. Each is considered in the language that it uses to describe its function. The Commission was named thus to indicate its management structure to allay fears that the new agency model would provide unreliable leadership. HEPU uses the more modern description ‘Historic Environment’ which evokes the wider importance of heritage to society widely appreciated today than simply that of listed buildings and ancient monuments. ‘Policy unit’ also tells you what it does. It works with government, it has the ear of the Cabinet Secretary, and it is the expert representative of heritage policy to the sector.

There is also a descriptive aspect to the shorter names; So Cadw, which means Protect, connotes a particular type of heritage activity whereas English Heritage might be read as being potentially broader/more changeable, but also less descriptive (in fact, in 1982 the reason for not wishing to use the word ‘heritage’ stemmed from the perceived loose definition of the word heritage. Ironically, it has perhaps ended up being more usefully descriptive than anyone could have imagined in the early 1980s).

ii) The trouble with descriptive names like Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission is that they tend to be long, technical, and to the average person, pretty dull and unmemorable. This is where the impulse to choose a short snappy name like English Heritage comes from. It will roll off the tongue. It will look good on a poster and you can be fairly safe from accidently creating an onomatopoeically unpleasent acronym.

The trouble is that when it comes to rebranding, we are stuck between wanting to be sort of descriptive, and recognisable/easy to say and remember/punchy. Thus the idea of English Nature rebranding as essentially a political move to save some face for the amalgamated bodies, giving the impression that they were not simply being swallowed up, led to the completely inexplicable non-name change to Natural England. I mean, I wasn’t there at the time, so I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’ve never met a person who wasn’t a policy wonk that has ever called Natural England Natural England without getting it wrong first. I’d have thought that it would have been a bit of a heritage agency in-joke for EH… but now they’re replicating the same mistake in 2014. Only their crime is so much worse for the fact that English Heritage and Historic England are going to exist in parallel, doing different things… I can’t begin to imagine that ‘Ford Mondeo man’, or whoever the ‘consumers’ of Historic England are supposed to be, is really going to give enough of a care to work out the difference between the two. Which brings me on to the issue of brand…

English Heritage has a very strong brand identity, built consciously since 1984 and primarily attached to the public understanding of what the organisation does presenting the National Collection of properties, such as Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle, and the White Horse of Uffington, which millions of people visit every year and which are synonymous with many a lay perception of the heritage sector.

It makes perfect sense to retain this brand image, but it means that the new NDPB (Historic England) has a doubly difficult job in their nascent existence. They will be responsible for the 99% of undesignated heritage that isn’t in the collection, including all those wider historic environment role that HEPU have so correctly described in their new name.

For 15 years or more we, as a sector, have been expressing how important this part of the work of English Heritage is and how increasing the public’s understanding and engagement is crucial to the organisations vision. Without a public image, this is going to be a difficult task. In one sense the departure of the collection clears the distraction of the 1% of heritage that is in care and where people go for a nice walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It potentially allows a new organisation space to develop the understanding of the everyday heritage which impacts to a much greater extend on our lives and identities.

But on the other hand it creates a bloody great obstacle that will naturally, for a long time, continue to draw the focus of public with the brand gravity that it already possesses.

This means that a really strong focus on strategic planning for building a public image and brand for the new NDPB is crucial. This is why the name Historic England is so deeply disappointing.

It is neither descriptive nor recognisable. Given the continued role of English Heritage, the new NDPB needed to be both of these things in order to develop a brand identity in its own right.

I fear that the organisation is moving towards a decline in its visibility that will impact the efforts of the last 15 years to increase the visibility and understanding of the wider aspects of heritage in the minds of the public.

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A challenge for Sajid Javid: 12 months as Culture Minister – Use them!

It was apt timing to be travelling to Scotland for the IfA conference on Wednesday at 7 am when the news started to arrive that Maria Miller had resigned following a week of intense pressure. Not only was I entertained on the the train, but it set the scene for the introductorary address at the conference which was being given by Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture north of the border.

I only wish that I hadn’t to come back. As Pete Hinton rightly recognised in thanking the Cabinet Secretary, we have spoken for years about how ‘politicians would never listen on the issues of culture, heritage, and archaeology’. We were wrong. It is possible, and it is being done.

Fiona Hyslop was engaged, supportive and knowledgeable – reflective of a positive approach to culture being taken in Scotland. So, back in England, what are the prospects that the new Culture Minister Sajid Javid will be able to be the same thing in Westminster?

1) Sajid Javid is not exactly a luvvie:

In his first appearance on Question Time on Thursday night Sajid showed that he was certainly in command of economic issues and that he was probably a valuable junior minister at the Treasury, building on his career as a banker.

His cultural credentials remain yet to be tested. However, better to be a good politician with no specialist knowledge than to be politically inept luvvie. I don’t think this to be the biggest barrier to success in the role. Especially if…

2) Sajid Javid might just be a good politician:

Sajid Javid is an interesting Tory. He is (or was) working class and has worked himself from state comprehensive, through university to a £3 million per year banking job, which he jacked in to enter public service.

Who knows, maybe this suggests that he has the makings of a genuine democrat – albeit a Tory pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind. He’s certainly excelling so far in his career. However, what this means is that…

3) Sajid Javid is a high-flyer:

The trouble is. Javid is without doubt an emerging Tory high-flyer and that brings an important issue.

Like many first time Ministers who land in Culture as high flyers (because it’s a relatively easy backwater within which to shed your training wheels), Javid will, whether he likes it or not be destined for promotions, promotions, promotions* (if you were cynical you might say (…naturally I would never) that as working-class, BME, state educated, antithisis of the Eton toff that provides the ammo for almost all of Ed Milliband’s political arsenal, he is thus a highly prized asset who it will be useful to have in a prominent role). What this means is that he’ll likely be off to another (read: more important) department at the very next reshuffle.

(*Note: Baldness renders him a practically unthinkable candidate for PM, however)

So where does that leave us?

Maria Miller was a ‘good’ culture secretary in the sense that she towed the party line and filled the void drawing as little attention to culture, the arts, and heritage as possible, while considering art for art’s sake a relic of a long gone age of decadence which needed to be toughened up if it wanted to survive in the ‘current climate’.

But maybe, just maybe, Sajid Javid can be ‘good’ in another way. So here’s a challenge to him:

You’ve got 12 months until the general election: Use them.

Javid is unlikely to let up on the rhetoric of the Treasury’s ‘long term economic plan’, but maybe he’ll come into the role with open eyes and ears and aim to build a rapport, learn about the sector and use the skill and financial nouse – not to mention political savvy – to build a grounding for a positive recognition of culture, arts and heritage AND a plan for how we continue to value it in tough economic times.

I think we could then happily wave Mr Javid off after when he heads to the Home office, Health, or Business after the general election.

Finally, to return to Fiona Hyslop’s opening address, one can make a vital point: Any empty shirt with a smile and a hairdo could have charmed an audience like the IfA conference with some placatory words and had a moderate reception (although Maria Miller didn’t even manage this much). The real litmus test is that Hyslop’s department can actually claim to be a genuine advocate for culture. The Scots don’t shirk the economic realities, but they seem to care about culture and heritage.

In England, we’ve missed an advocate capable of pulling the department out of the dirt for far too long. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’ve found our man. …But wouldn’t that be a thing to hope for?

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Hansard debate on the future of English Heritage

Yesterday (2nd April) a debate was held in Westminster Hall with the purpose of discussing the future of English Heritage. It is most interesting and worth a read in Hansard here, but with in specific reference to points I made on Monday about recommendations for listing made by the Farrell Review I’ve pulled the following quote:

Helen Goodman: … No doubt the Minister will tell us about the Farrell review of architecture and the built environment. There are a number of good ideas in that report, but I was not immediately attracted to the proposals on cultural heritage. Is not the proposal to make listing “less academic” code for dumbing down? The Minister is looking puzzled. He wrote the foreword to the report; he obviously has not read it. Seeking to elide the views of the Design Council with those of English Heritage is surely a way of suppressing the views of English Heritage. The report says:

“The value of our building stock is no longer just historical or architectural”.

That is very worrying. Had we had listing by public opinion polls, St Pancras railway station would have been demolished 50 years ago. It was only the sustained campaign by Sir John Betjeman that made it popular in the public mind.

2 Apr 2014 : Column 284WH

The point is that architecture goes in and out of fashion. That applies not just to modern architecture, but to views of earlier architecture. How boring it would be if London consisted only of Georgian terraces or only of the mediaeval and the modern. A place is complex and multi-layered, built over time by many generations, and all of those things should be reflected in the built environment.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): 

….

The point about the Farrell review was to celebrate the fact that the artificial divide between modern architecture and heritage has dissolved. Heritage and modern architects now work a great deal in partnership, as was shown by the fact that the Stirling prize, traditionally seen as the great modern architecture prize, went to the Landmark Trust last year for a heritage building that had been beautifully restored by a modern architect. As someone who took the “brave” decision, as my officials would have described it, to list Preston bus station, I bow to no one in my homage to modern architecture, but as someone who regards Durham cathedral as one of the most magnificent structures in this kingdom, I also bow to no one in my devotion to heritage. In fact, that is what has led us here today, because I want a fantastic future for English Heritage.

How is it possible to prevent the loss of buildings which are ‘unfashionable’ without the objective academic assessment of listing? But on the other hand, how can we claim to subscribe to the ideology that heritage is based upon what the people value if we don’t also have a mechanism for public feeling to be weighed in designation decisions (of whatever form)? Can a single system do both? I would argue no. But there are positive examples of where these principles are employed.

Examples include Bristol City Council’s Know Your Place project and it’s innovative community layer, and the Welsh Archaeological Trusts’ Archwillio. Could these kinds of tools generate a crowd sourced map of value in the built environment?

An interesting debate.

It is also currently being discussed on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=5856389506713821185&gid=3297985&goback=%2Egmp_3297985#commentID_null

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The Farrell Review launches – and there’s a lot to talk about.

The Farrell review of Architecture & the Built Environment launched yesterday. At 200 pages long it’s not punchy, and it’s packed with 60 recommendations for the built environment sector.

In my early opinion, I am very pleased by the content. It’s something I’ve thought for a long time, but far too seldom articulated, that the historic environment and the built environment are very close corollaries. While we’re at it, you can add in the natural environment as well. We all live in constant interaction with our environments; with our homes, our workplaces, our streets and towns, our cities.

We inhabit multiple ‘nested’ landscapes and have myriad intimate interactions with them and reactions to them. We all want to inhabit places that we can enjoy – that have high amenity. That means understanding what makes them good and working to enhance them. In this way good design, conservation, community facilities, etc. are all facets of the same die. It is only sensible that we approach them in a joined-up manner.

One might forgive an architect for thinking that great architecture is the key to place. It is true. If we build beautiful homes then people will be much more likely to want to live in them. However, we also have to make sure we build them in the right places, and that we give the right protections to the historic and natural environment.

The historic landscape is of course made up of important individual assets and we, rightly, have systems to designate and protect them, but conservationists and heritage professionals also know that the historic assets that we seek to protect are also crucially embedded in the wider built and natural environments – that we can’t treat one well without acknowledging the other.

Sir Terry Farrell is an architect who understands all of this. In fact I believe that most architects do understand this. I think most conservation professionals do, and most planners. I think that in reality our principles are currently outpacing our practice, our institutions are lagging behind. In my research I have surveyed built environment professionals from various backgrounds and roles, and have found that there are few who think that all heritage is a brake on growth or that all modern architecture should be banned from historic townscapes, or that heritage assets should be sacrosanct – Ruskin-style. The survey shows (I’ll publish some findings here soon) that we actually all think rather more similarly. And this should give those who subscribe to the public value principles of the Faro Convention or English Heritage’s Conservation Principles great hope.

The Farrell report is loud and clear about the importance of the historic environment and the wider integration of design, planning and conservation. Conservation is one of the 4 main elements of the review and it has a host of highly astute recommendations to make. These include:

  • A review of the way English Heritage approaches listing – Farrell recommends that it should be a more open and democratic process and that it should allow great modern buildings to be listed more easily – i.e. that if people love a building for it’s great design, then it should be listable.

My reaction: I’ve said in the past (and I’m not alone) that designation is not a fit way to ascribe value to heritage. It is very sad that the NPPF regresses from PPS5 in allowing a broader value based approach to heritage values, but I do think that listing serves a purpose. At base it does something valuable by preserving the unique examples – the earliest, biggest, and best. We need that as a physical representation of the past, of embodied value.

However, beyond this there is a whole realm of social value which is unrecognised by listing. This value is swayed by opinion. Opinions change over time, and rightly. Local listing is perhaps a better way to access this, but beyond that there is maybe scope for a broader ‘place’ based register for elements of the built environment which are well valued and which contribute positively to amenity, sense of place or local distinctiveness.

  • Reduce VAT to 5% on repairs and renovation to existing buildings.

Reaction: Amen! Terry won’t be popular with the government for saying it, but fair play for him doing so. Enough of the heritage sector is already full behind this!

  • Stronger relationships between CABE in the Design Council and English Heritage, and inclusion of EH specialists on Farrell’s proposed expert local ‘PLACE review panels’ which he develops as an idea of how to get his principles into the planning system.

Reaction: Not to try to put too fine a point on it, but I said this on this blog last year. Will be less of a climax when I say it in my thesis now, though. That said, a bloody important idea that could vastly improve the culture within English Heritage, make it more socially relevant now and in the future.

With the shake-down and the departure of the Collections to the new charity, this is an opportunity to Historic England to carve its own future from the beginning and should definitely be capitalised upon.

Essentially the overall theme is that we don’t have to have either great (modern) architecture or heritage. The two are not mutually exclusive.

As I say, in heritage we’ve been saying this at the highest level for 17 years. Sir Terry Farrell has been practicing it since the 1970s. It’s time to make some changes to the planning system and the cross-sectoral partnerships and coordination across heritage, planning, and architecture. Heritage is a core component of the built environment – we already broadly share an ideology and it is time to make changes to the planning system and institutions of government in order to make it happen.

There are issues. Not least being the fragmentation of the sectors and of the government responsibilities for the built environment, (summed up by this telling graphic below) and the relationships between the professional and voluntary bodies which work with them.

Then there is the consequential problem that this is a review commissioned by Ed Vaizey in the DCMS and not the DCLG, DfT, or DEFRA.

Fragmentation of the government responsibility for the built environment

Fragmentation of the government responsibility for the built environment

Nonetheless, the report is, in my opinion, a highly worthwhile assessment of the state of the built environment, with some perceptive recommendations.

We hope that Ed Vaizey takes these recommendations very seriously and has the clout to influence the necessary partners across Whitehall. He won’t be able to repair the institutional failings to run a joined-up government, but he may be able to take some positive measures.

Anyway, if you haven’t already, go read the Farrell review here.

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Valuing heritage in an age of austerity: A Scottish take on an English crisis

In his recent blog post, Sam Hardy has asked ‘how can we limit austerity cuts to cultural services?’ Check out the piece here.

Recently I’ve been thinking about similar questions, and would like to expand upon the theme and ask:

Why is it that we don’t seem to care about our cultural and heritage services in England?

There are many angles that one could take on this question, such as:

  • How can we remedy the relatively low profile of heritage in public debate and the relative anonymity of heritage organisations?
  • Why is it that people tend to take their heritage for granted until it is threatened?
  • Can we combat the perception that other issues are more politically sensitive? And make government see that the proportionately tiny heritage sector cannot yield significant fiscal savings?

But my question targets England on purpose, and it is to this that I want to look for my answer, because one only has to look to Scotland to see an altogether different approach to dealing with culture and heritage in the harsh economic climate.

What makes Scotland different?

Well, simply, they appear to value their heritage more. From individual member of the public, to public servant, to Cabinet Minister – they seem to be prepared to assign heritage a place at the top table of political affairs in Scotland. The modern Scottish identity is much more powerful than that in England – or at least, there are people who are much more willing to champion it in public.

Partially, good projects that have been undertaken by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission, such as Scotland’s Rural Past have created a positive policy momentum built on improvement of social issues, connecting sense of place and quality of life with the historic environment, and building a holistic understanding of how heritage links with the wider built and natural environment. Also, it is partly to do with the present nationalist government and the political and media focus on the independence referendum meaning that energy is being directed towards these discussions of identity and culture.  But crucially, part of it is seemingly simply more embedded in the system and, perhaps, even in society and in the Scottish culture.

Here’s the telling thing: Imagine, whoever wins the 2015 general election in Scotland – it’s hard to see them significantly rowing back on broad scale commitments to heritage. Likewise in England it is hard to imagine, whether the next government is formed by Labour, the Conservatives, or another Lib Dem (or UKIP) coalition, that heritage would achieve any greater importance on the agenda.

Why is this?

First let’s just say this: Scotland is going to be forced to deal with cuts in just the same way as England and it is as much a certainty that heritage services will have to be cut north of the border as they will be to the south. However, having a broad political commitment to the issues of culture and identity and a (seemingly) genuine desire to protect heritage (both the ‘special’ and designated, and the ‘ordinary’ and everyday undesignated) gives me more confidence that any necessary cuts are going to be made with full understanding of the consequences, and with all other options exhausted. Whereas in England there seems to be a frightening lack of basic understanding of heritage among politicians beyond designated assets and of landscapes beyond national parks (witness the lack of understanding of sense of place in the NPPF and the lack of any reference to the UK’s commitments to the European Landscape Convention).

As for the reasons why this is possible, I’m mainly guessing. But here are a few possibilities:

  • Having a broader positive social agenda

Scotland’s lean to the left means that social benefits deriving from culture are more easily valued cross-party. Even Labour in England doesn’t seem to offer this at the moment.

  • Scottish identity is a more important factor in society

Regardless of whether people vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in the referendum this year, it is fairly undeniable that Scots think more about their country and their locality than we do in England. Passionate identity leads to better recognition of the important things in one’s surroundings, and to a better defense of those things in one’s core beliefs.

  • Scottish government is more connected to place

MSPs almost always come from the places that they represent. There is therefore a clear connection between place and political representation. MSPs are therefore more concerned with the best for their constituency that MPs in England who are assigned safe seats by their parties based largely upon who they want in government regardless of where the individuals are from.

  • Scotland is smaller, and the system is less bureaucratic

Maybe I’m clutching at straws now, but the size of the country and the size and levels of accessibility of its government makes it easier to build positive policies based upon widespread consultation with people and with the third sector. Heritage NGOs in England have a much harder time building relationships with politicians and it is much harder to influence. And this is emphasised by the earlier points.

So what can we do?

The heritage sector has, since the early 2000s made great strides in getting the heritage agenda recognised as contributing to various broad governmental wishes – be it through Labour’s social inclusion policy, as a contributor to the value of good design in urban renewal, or as an important part of Localism.

However, there have been barriers to getting heritage to break through to be a real issue in its own right, and reluctance to see it as a crucial contributor to any other policy, such as planning.

Perhaps this is something that will come around in the next decade or so with changing political perspectives of social issues, or with the recovery of the economy. And perhaps this will be catalysed by Scotland’s exit from the UK – forcing a rapid reconsideration of what Englishness is and how to value our unique, vibrant, and diverse culture – enriched over hundreds of years of multicultural interaction.

In the meantime, heritage organisations need to stake their claims to the important issues of identity and cultural significance of place and space and continue to advocate to government, but also, crucially, appeal to the public to solidify a heritage understanding and promote a long-term agenda which can be supported by the vast majority of people in the country.

Even if this means looking to the long-term, we should be thinking about how to rescue the societal importance of heritage.

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English Heritage: A brand identity crisis?

With the imminent split of English Heritage into two bodies – one half to become a charitable body to continue care of the historic properties in the Collection and the other to continue with government liaison and policy duties – is the organisation sleep-walking into a crisis of identity, a confused public image, and a potentially damaging threat to it’s people-centred heritage functions?

Sunday’s piece in the Indy provides a good up to date analysis of the split. And others have commented, such as @MikeHeyworth on BBC R4’s Today programme back in September,  that the service side is where an array of vital functions relating to planning and wider impacts on heritage are carried out which must be safeguarded.

However, I fear that not only is it vital that provision for those services remains intact and safe, but that now more than ever, the new service must retain visibility and public profile which reflects the organisation’s mandate to put people at the heart of heritage protection.

Without the Collections – which are widely known of and instantly recognisible from the castle symbol (present on ‘brown signs’ all over England) and from it’s media profile – there is a real need for the new service to promote itself. This is potentially worrying.

However, on the other hand this could be a unique opportunity; both to develop a public profile for broader historic environment issues, such as sense of place and local character, and to change traditional negative perceptions of the organisation as the ‘abominable “no” men’, expanding how the organisation is seen and re-enforcing more recent democratic and participative heritage ideals that have been championed since the early 2000s.

However, the way in which the split is being approached doesn’t seem to reflect this.

I wish to reserve discussion of the details until the scale and form of the public consultation (due this Monday passed – see below) is known, but I will – now that the Independent has openly revealed what has been known internally for several months – take issue with the name of the new body:

Historic England

Arguably a simple solution to a potentially difficult naming exercise…

Positives:

  • It mirrors Historic Scotland (although that may well change name next year) and Natural England (which is still confusingly widely referred to by its old name English Nature…)

Negatives:

  • It is virtually unrecognisably different to English Heritage – which will be retained as the brand of the Charity.
  • It does not describe the difference in function between the charity and the government advice service NDPB.
  • It does not describe what the service does or why it is important and in no way supports a change perception towards the organisation.
  • It is utterly forgettable.

The last thing that such a vital heritage organisation needs to be at present is forgettable while cuts continue to loom and Government looks to decimate any service that cannot prove its worth.

The organisation has seriously missed an opportunity if this goes ahead, and I fear it could be very damaging to the ability of the new organisation to state its case for what heritage does within society (within the public value ideology it has been developing for a decade).

Suggestions for the new body? Well, I take inspiration from the model used for naming of the new ‘Scottish Governmet Historic Environment Policy Unit':

Well, it should recognise the centrality of PEOPLE. So it should be a SERVICE, not an agency or a commission.

It is about the holistically defined HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT.

And it has a core role of ADVISING government.

So how about:

Historic Environment Advice Service for England”

Not very flashy, perhaps. But it emphasises 3 important points, and at least it describes what the service does. Which for a body which has just been divorced from its most widely recognisable part is vital.

Should this be sacrificed for the sake a snappy name? Can’t someone more creative than me come up with something that does both? I hope that this is addressed in a full and open consultation!

(EDIT: And as someone has just pointed out to me you could add ‘Records’ to make it HEARSE…)

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Another Treasury bloodying for England’s heritage

This afternoon (26th June 2013) we are expecting the announcement of the Government’s most recent spending review.

It is not going to be good news for English Heritage.

Across the board a cut of 8% will really bite an organisation that has already cut one third off it’s budget in the last 3 years.

Add to this the fact that Arts and Museums are set to have their funding ring-fenced beyond a 4% cut and it is doubly bad news for EH, who could end up shouldering the brunt of a massive 12% cut. The bizarre thing about this decision is that rumours suggest that it was a Treasury dictat which has been foisted upon Maria Miller’s DCMS – the reasons for which can only be guessed at and I will leave to individual imaginations.

If we fear the worst and this is all true then there will be some tough decisions to make in EH. For one, it seems unlikely that the majority part of the business which operates the historic property arm of the organisation will be hugely cut. Anything likely to impact revenue generating capacity is off the table, thus the cut will fall disproportionatly on the body’s advice services.

Advice and oversight are crucial parts of English Heritage’s service to the historic environment. They support the network of local authorities in understanding and implementing policy; they are a line of defence against innappropriate development proposals and a direct line in to government; they are a public service that helps people to understand and research the historic environment; and they produce evidence that supports the importance of heritage to society, the environment and the economy.

English Heritage is also a key grant providing agency that substantially props up the independent and voluntary organisations in the wider sector. Any cuts passed on to third sector bodies will be painful to bear. The other area which may be cut is the direct care of historic properties and heritage at risk.

The options in the short term are not too rosy for the body set up to be the guardian of the heritage in 1983. General belt tightening only gets you so far, and EH have already cut several extra new notches. Some kind of cut in project funding for conservation is very likely, possibly an extreme cut, pushing out all repair and maintenance funding to the HLF or other philanthropic organisations. Another route may be to institute charges for public advice functions where previously they had been free. Professional functions may be more difficult to charge for in the current climate, as the market may not hold up under any extra financial pressures.

What is sure, however, is that this is not a sustainable road to be walking. It seems likely that cutting the services offered will be the only way that this will progress, with the future of services like the National Monuments Record in serious doubt.

In the longer term, will English Heritage survive in it’s current form? An optimist might be able to see opportunity in the midst of depression and idealise a vision of a reborn heritage organisation.

In government, it’s possible that the ever unimportant DCMS will be scrapped following a general elelction. If its functions were moved, heritage could find a new home with Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to align it with planning and the built environment, or potentially with Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to align it with tourism and leisure.

Either or a mix of these proposals could signal an opportunity to redesign the model English Heritage has had for 30 years – a mighty old age for a Majorite Quango!

Personally, I think that seeing EH merged in some for with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) would be a good thing, perhaps with the property owning, tourism focussed side separating and going its own way (under the BIS portfolio along with art, museums, and sport?). This new grouping would see heritage politically acknowledged as being part of the environment, it would push sense of place to the fore, and the everyday interactions of people with place and the historic character of town and country.

It would fit with the NPPF’s coherent vision for the planning sector and it would potentially mean that heritage was less likely to be omitted from important discussion and the experts would be found in the same department.

As for tourism and museums, they have an economic mandate to fulfil under the current government and they will be better placed to pursue it under BIS – a split responsibility for research in archaeology and the potential for the impulses driving knowledge and understanding of the past would have the potential to be damaging, but compared the the current situation, where heritage is dying a death inside a backwater department consigned to the bottom tier in governmental affairs it would be a complete revitalisation.

George Osborne begins speaking in 10 minutes….

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Surveying professional attitudes towards heritage

As part of my PhD research I am currently rolling out a survey designed to be taken by professionals involved in a range of historic environment roles, particularly those who deal with the built heritage, from listed buildings, to historic landscapes, to townscape character.

The survey (which can be found at http://bit.ly/heritageattitudes) aims to assess the range of people who are involved in such work as selection, designation and management of heritage assets, the consideration of planning and heritage consents, to those applying for them, advocating new development, responsible for it’s design, and those who are contracted to work on surveying, recording, investigating, repairing – and even demolishing them. But listed buildings processes are only an example: The opinions of anyone whose work affects or is affected by heritage assets is sought.

The underlying purpose is to consider whether these range of professionals have different views on heritage, different perspectives on the regulations that govern practice, and different principles guiding their work.

This hints at one of the main problems with trying to analyse policy making and implementation for its content – How do we know what principles are underpinning the interpretations of the texts of a particular policy? Who is using it, why, and how?

Heritage – as recognised in various government statements – underpins a great deal of what we consider to be the character of places, their historic context, or local distinctivness. Understanding the broad range of technical elements of the planning policy is therefore a prerequisit of much of the work which goes into the process of building a new housing estatefinding a location for a new windfarm, or even replacing a functional infrasctructure feature.

So what do local authority planners know about heritage? What do architects of modern housing, or civil engineers, know about heritage? What do Tescos’ planning team know about heritage? What do they think about sense of place, significance, or even sustainable development? How would these people interpret the demands and principles of policy differently?

We can all read the 3 pages devoted to the subject in the NPPF, but if we are trained differently, how do we know that we are going to act similarly when asked to interpret policy? What happens when there are 1000s of pages of guidance and local regulations, or when technical training supported by particular professional institutes takes years to complete?

These questions have potentially important ramifications in an era where some local authorities are scrapping all archaeological and heritage services in a bit to cut costs, where developers are loath to increase expenditure on heritage related S106 agreements that eat into ever-shrinking profits, and where government regulation and guidance is becoming more and more sparsley detailed. Professional values and the consequent interpretation of policy are thus key to predicting how heritage will survive when regulation is relaxed.

By designing this survey, I hope to be able to plot how heritage values relate to various sectors which deal with historic assets as part of their work. It will, hopefully be able to show if planners think the same as architects, and the same as historians or archaeologists.

The questions on heritage value are designed with reference to various principles of policy that have existed in the past 20 years. They allow a range of opinions to be articulated relating to various aspects of the historic environment.

It also questions whether legislative frameworks are clear, effective, and adequate for the processes they engage in and will provide some idea as to professional attitude towards the political processes within which heritage is embedded.

If you are interested, please take the survey at http://bit.ly/heritageattitudes.

Your reponses will be of great value to my work and your time is most appreciated.

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Worrying cuts to York’s Historic Environment Services proposed

Last week I was in the City of York Council’s brand new West Offices building, a tasteful and modern refurbishment of a Grade 2* Listed former railway building. I was pleased by how well the building’s heritage had been treated and modernised. A perfect space for a modern council to administer the business of a historic city.

However, the very same day the news broke that proposals to drastically cut the historic enviornment services for the city’s councils were advancing, which would include the reduction of the City Archaeologist and Landscape Architect’s role from full time to 3 days per week, the reduction in Conservation Officers from 2.5 to just 0.6 and cutting the countryside manger post altogether.

Such a drastic cut is simply has to been seen by the conservation-minded citizen as absolutely outragous attack on this citie’s historic built environment, its heritage, and archaeology. Stinging criticism was quick from all angles of the profession and from the York Press (who’s article can be seen here).

I don’t think it can be stressed enough how much a city like York is built upon its historic environment. If the city has aspitations to continue to be a tourist hot-spot in the north of England, a scenic city which attracts investment and business, and a place where residents are proud to live, it must start by acknowledging and protecting its heritage. It is at the very base of what York is and why it is important. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people will confirm that, when asked. I fear that the Council are being duped by the false assumption that they will be seen as betraying residents if other services, such as education are cut, even if there is more scope to do so. Certainly expecting the already tiny historic environment team to bear a disproportionate share of the cuts is not the answer.

It is a serious worry that this proposal comes with no guidance over what services should be scaled back (or totally lost), no opportunity to justify existing roles before they are cut, and no strategy to deal with the shortfall in services that will be created. The fact is that development which affects archaeology in York requires some expert in the Council to comment on and pass archaeological reports from developers, to assess the quality of the consideration of the impact on heritage assets, and on their surroundings, contained within any proposals. Without adequate provision this simply will not be possible.

The fact is that many archaeological reports are poorly written and do not meet the requirements of the primary legislation or planning policy – it takes significant pushing for them to do their duty by planning policy. Without an expert assessment, it will not be possible to sort those who have carefully followed planning regulation from those who have simply treated the ‘heritage assessment’ part of the application as a burdensome extra to be got out of the way as quickly as possible.

These proposals are perhaps even more worrying for the indication they give as to the state of affairs nationally in the current climate. If a historic city of York’s calibre – a place where you can’t swing a shovel without striking nationally important archaeology – is able to do this, what hope for the archaeology and heritage services in other areas of the country not so famed for its historic architecture, heritage and archaeology? What hope for the Wolverhampton and Cleveland’s of this country – places which have only a fraction of the designated assets York does? York City Council are both embarressing themselves by cutting their heritage provisions below levels of other smaller and historically less significant authorities, and setting a dangerous precident for other historic towns and cities.

It is truly troubleing, also, that Local Authorities feel that meeting offical guidelines of the effective and legally mandated work to protect heritage is not worth following. Be it responding with an expert line on archaeological impact, or providing effective historic environment records.

It must be hoped that York City Council realise the error in judgement of these proposals. I must also be hoped that a great wave of public response makes them rethink, for the effects could be dire, both for York, and as a grim portent for the rest of the country.Image(Image: Inside the new City Council West Offices – credit: s-harrison.co.uk)

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