Briefing: New model seeks to reinforce national heritage protection

Government is bringing in reforms to the agency responsible for protecting the nation's heritage assets. Emma Watton explains.

Q Why is the government planning to break up English Heritage?

A Following a consultation last winter, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has concluded that its proposed "new model" will enable better protection and promotion of England’s heritage, while also providing the means to address a backlog of repair and conservation work.

The proposals seek to secure the future of the National Heritage Collection and make savings for the taxpayer through the eventual self-sufficiency of English Heritage, the government’s statutory advisory body on the historic environment.

Q What are the key elements of the new model?

A The government intends to split English Heritage into two distinct bodies. A new charitable trust will take on the control and management of heritage sites and carry on the English Heritage name. This body will receive a large amount of funding to tackle repair and conservation works and make these sites more accessible to more people.

English Heritage’s current planning and heritage protection role will be carried out by a new non-departmental public body called Historic England. The government aims to make the system better for owners, developers and infrastructure providers, cutting unnecessary bureaucracy.

Q How much funding will be available for heritage works?

A Some £80 million will be provided by the government, along with money raised by third parties, as part of a programme to remedy conservation defects, replace and restore exhibitions and enhance the visitor experience at heritage sites. Of this money, £52 million is allocated to address the highest priority defects. Despite concern among respondents to the consultation, the government is confident that this will be enough to tackle the repairs required.

The English Heritage charity will continue to receive grant-in-aid from the government on a declining basis until 2022/23, at which point it is expected to become self-financing. This was another area of concern for respondents. Many considered it an ambitious deadline for self-sufficiency, and regarded it as important that the charity could not draw on Historic England’s funding to meet any deficit.

Q How will the revised model affect English Heritage’s current duties and powers when it comes to planning and heritage protection?

A Despite being carried out by a different body, duties and powers in these areas will remain broadly the same. The proposals seek to enable provision of better and more responsive services and to give Historic England a more public-facing role, in particular in its dealings with heritage property owners.

The impact is likely to be limited to positive improvements to services, meaning that there should not be substantial changes for local authorities, developers or other bodies involved in heritage matters. While most respondents were pleased that there would not be significant modifications under Historic England, others wondered whether this would be a good opportunity for a more detailed review in the light of decreased central government funding and local authority resources.

Q To what extent has the government taken on board responses to the consultation?

A The consultation response fully sets out the comments received and the government’s response to them. While most respondents acknowledged the need for change and the benefits of the new model, some did have concerns.

In particular, consultees criticised the consultation for being "lighter" on the proposals for Historic England. The government has responded to this concern by promising to publish more information, including submitting Historic England’s corporate plan for public consultation. Once the new model is up and running, the government plans to conduct a triennial review from 2016/17 to assess Historic England’s functions and needs.

Respondents also requested more evidence of the resilience of the new model and the likelihood of achieving the targets set for fundraising. In response, the government has published a summary of the business case for the new model and has provided additional figures to support its calculations.

Emma Watton is a trainee solicitor at law firm Mills & Reeve.

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