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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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…)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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….

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Some half-formed thoughts on potential of Universities to affect change in archaeology.

On Friday I attended a discussion held by Martin Carver at the University of York which was well attended by representatives from across all branches of the profession, from English Heritage to commercial diggers. It’s purpose was to discuss the vacuum of progress the profession is currently in, and to try to come up with a way in which we, as a group, could do something about the way we move forward, using the agenda of the Southport report as a starting block.

The University sector is in a peculiar position regarding post-PPS5 archaeological ethics (as I said in my recent article in the Archaeologist vol.83), as it is at once isolated from the impact zone of the policy, since it is not normally or necessarily a direct part of the planning process, and at the same time, perhaps in the best place to affect change in professional practice on a level which will achieve what Southport had in mind for archaeology.

In the commercial and local government sectors, where hard cuts are biting and staffing levels are at near record lows, it is perhaps understandable that successive rafts new policy cannot generate the excitement and innovation. Both groups are being asked to do more and more with less and less, when it is as much as can be asked to simply get any job done at all.

The argument is that University research which is driving technological advances in practice should be being thought of with an end product – as envisioned by the Southport Group – in mind. If the processes of actually doing archaeology were formed in a way which  were sympathetic to the goals of public engagement and the achievement of new knowledge and understanding then we would have a much better chance of delivering positive change. And whilst not untouched by funding cuts and other pressures, the University research sector does still have energy to use in pursuit of a grander agenda of the level necessary to affect change in the sector.

Professor Mike Fulford of the University of Reading has spoken of the forward thinking partnerships with commercial and local government units for the achievement of better results from commercial projects. The wealth of information dug up in the foundations of new development, previously consigned to inaccessible grey literature is now, with greater frequency, being read and used by students and academics who have the power to innovate to achieve interesting results for expanding our understanding as a profession, and for the wider public as well, if only an outlet into the public domain could be achieved.

That there is positive discussion within universities to actually engage with the wider profession in a way which has so often been lacking is encouraging. By using their privileged position regarding research freedoms, universities can drive Southport’s aims forward, and by reforming some of the ways in which we do archaeology we stand a better chance of actually altering the outputs by having a product that has been designed from the ground up, rather than by trying to re-polish the results of an out-dated system of investigation which has produced an inferior product for years.

This group may offer one of the best hopes for sparking institutional change in the next few years and I am looking forward to the next meeting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is now the time for local heritage lists?

With the final NPPF now known and currently being digested by all interested parties, heritage practitioners can begin to think about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead (without relying on wild speculation about policy constraints).

Historic environment NGOs must not fail to capitalise on the localism agenda’s decentralisation opportunities. In terms of planning, the Localism Act contains many, if not all of the implications of PPS5’s ethos of public engagement and community social value that the NPPF perhaps fails to replicate in full.

The NPPF does, however, set the scene for local plans to do much more for the heritage. It recognises the social value of the historic environment, the important contribution that heritage can make to one’s sense of place and local distinctiveness, and also recognises the intrinsic value of cultural and natural landscapes which people attach community value to.

Within this and with reference to localism’s principles, local authorities and neighbourhood planning groups can take up the chance to comprehensively map their local heritage within their plans.

To do this they have the following tools at their disposals:

  1. Local lists
  2. Local green space initiatives
  3. HERs

1.  Local heritage lists were introduced in 2007 in the Heritage white paper but have never been especially prominent in the raft of heritage protections that have permeated the planning process. The current government’s principles of decentralisation seem to carry the potential to change this as local plans should be better able to protect the heritage that is valued locally.

The NPPF retains roughly the same definition of ‘heritage asset’ we had in PPS5:

 ‘A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).’ (appendix 2)

(Missing is the phrase ‘during the process of decision-making’ which is found in PPS5 and the draft NPPF inserted just before the parentheses – It is unclear to me whether this has implications for consideration of local assets which are not designated prior to an application for development, but I suspect that court cases will be brought to decide this in the future).

There are extra protections attached to ‘designated heritage assets’ which are considered to be those assets on national registers, including the statement that;

‘Substantial harm to or loss of designated heritage assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.’ (para. 128)

This privileges national designations, but despite this the text of the NPPF implies that locally listed heritage assets must be considered when determining planning applications in a manner appropriate to their significance.

However, it is up to local authority or neighbourhood groups to insist that such a list gets written and that it is done so appropriately with adequate community participation, in line with principles of public participation and the community value of heritage as defined in the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP), and likely to be echoed within the historic environment guidance that will appear to support the NPPF.

2. Local Green Space initiatives (para. 76-78) are, within the NPPF, a useful concept with which to protect heritage assets such as parks, village greens, playing fields, or other open spaces. Whilst those heritage assets which are not (or are not situated within) green areas will not be eligible for this particular listing, those that are will gain more protection than those on local lists, being ranked alongside nationally designated assets in terms of explicit exemptions from development in all but the most special circumstances (para. 76, 14).

Again however, it is worth noting that Green Spaces can only be designated when the plan is being written or revised, and so planners have to make sure that they allow for adequate community participation in securing designation for all local green spaces that are judged by the community as having sufficient value as to be worthy of protection from future development at the time that they are writing their plans.

3. Historic Environment Records (HERs) are a familiar battleground for heritage NGOs, and will continue to be fought for in the face of tough budget cuts and dwindling employment figures.

However, their place in the NPPF will revitalise them in the fight. It is stated that HERs must be consulted during development applications (para. 128, 141) and that they should be maintained in an appropriate manner so as to keep them relevant and up-to-date.

As important sources of information on significance that already exist in local authority areas, they will be invaluable in the formation of local lists and for speedily obtaining statements of local significance.

The HER also has great potential for public engagement, and if managed with this in mind could provide links between communities and heritage concerns in the planning process: For instance, by making them easily accessible on-line and by making local lists available through them.

As with local listing, it is highly important that heritage NGOs continue to push this message with DCLG and DCMS, or (failing an official government re-statement -which, alas, is unlikely) from English Heritage. Once again, this will likely be strongly asserted in the forthcoming sectoral guidance.

What is of concern is that in the rush to create a local plan before the 12 month NPPF implementation window closes some or all of these heritage concerns may not be given the necessary attention to make sure they are carried out properly, or, without applied pressure from heritage NGOs such as English Heritage and Natural England some LPAs may fail to realise either the benefit of defining a quality local list or the public sentiment in support of protecting local heritage (see the NHPP for statistics)

We must hope that English Heritage are swift in their release of guidance to local planning authorities, and that they are able to assign sufficient resources to supporting LPAs and neighbourhood groups in their drafting processes, and also that the Heritage Alliance’s Historic Environment Forum move to pressure government to officially endorse its Historic Environment guidance soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment