Memorandum Submitted by English Heritage
1. English Heritage welcomes the opportunity
to offer evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select
Committee on the role of DEFRA.
2. English Heritage is the Government's
principal adviser on all aspects of the historic environment in
Englandincluding historic buildings and areas, archaeology
and the historic landscapewith a remit that extends to
both the urban and rural environments. As well as conservation,
our statutory duties include promoting the public's enjoyment
of the historic environment and their knowledge of it. As part
of this function we manage an estate of over 400 historic propertiesattracting
in excess of 11,000,000 visitors annuallythe majority of
which are in the countryside. We are, therefore, significant participants
in the UK tourism business and, for example, have been a partner
in the recent "Your Countryside: You're Welcome"
campaign to revitalise rural tourism.
3. Our role in heritage and landscape conservation
issues give us a significant interest in the implications of environmental,
agricultural and land-use policy. We also have a close interest
in rural development and the contribution the historic environment
can make to the regeneration of rural communities. We are pleased
to be closely involved in the England Rural Development Programme
(ERDP), sitting alongside the other environmental agencies on
the National Strategy Group for the Programme and on its Regional
Programming Groups. We are also members of the national and regional
ERDP Consultation Groups.
4. In December last year, the Government
issues a major statement on the historic environment of England1.
This confirmed that the historic environment contributes to a
wide range of government policies and should not be seen as the
preserve of any single department. It underlined the need for
good cross-departmental links if the historic environment was
to be managed effectively. DEFRA and DTLR (as it then was) were
both involved in drafting the statement, and were identified as
having a particularly important role to play in managing the historic
environment by virtue of their involvement in planning, regeneration,
and environmental policy.
5. Our evidence to the Committee therefore
focuses on DEFRA's own involvement withand contribution
towardsthe historic environment. In this context it should
be noted that the ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
had a statutory duty under Section 17 of the 1986 Agriculture
Act to achieve "a reasonable balance" between "(a)
the promotion and maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural
industry; (b) the economic and social interests of rural areas;
the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity
of the countryside (including its flora and fauna and geological
and physiographical features) and of any features of archaeological
interest there; and (d) the promotion of the enjoyment of the
countryside by the public"
6. This duty has now passed to DEFRA, which
is better placed than MAFF to achieve this difficult balance.
With its enhanced emphasis on environmental protection and rural
development and its interest in rural tourism, the new department
has the potential to be a major force in the promotion of the
historic environment in England.
7. Unlike the other leading conservation
agencies (English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Environment
Agency), which are sponsored by DEFRA, English Heritage is sponsored
by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We therefore have
a close interest in ensuring that inter-departmental and inter-agency
links with the DEFRA "family" are as effective as possible.
These links were examined as part of our own recent quinquennial
Review. The review acknowledged that effective operational links
have already been forged between DEFRA and English Heritage, but
noted that effective joint working has been hampered by "the
lack of any formal constitutional relationship and high-level
We would like to see these problems rectified as soon as possible
and have already taken steps to achieve this, which we hope will
be reflected in action on DEFRA's part.
8. Our operational links with DEFRA are
focussed particularly on the Land Use and Rural Affairs Directorate
and the Rural Development Service, reflecting their leading role
in delivering environmental conservation and rural development.
We are also beginning to develop effective links with other areas
of the new Department, such as the Environmental Protection Directorate,
although these are less well developed.
9. English Heritage commends the speed with
which DEFRA has sought to establish its new ministerial vision
statement, its underpinning statement of Aim and Objectives and
its new prospectus "Working for the Essentials of Life".
We also greatly welcome the open and consultative manner in which
DEFRA developed these statements. We are particularly pleased
to note that, as a result of the consultation process, the final
version of the statement lays far greater emphasis than the consultation
draft on the holistic character of the environment and on the
global, marine and urban responsibilities of the new Department.
As a result, we believe that the vision statement is wholly appropriate
10. We were, however, disappointed that
"Working for the Essentials of Life" pays comparatively
little regard to the Department's role in maintaining the quality
of the countryside, and makes no specific reference to its work
in conserving the historic environment. This is particularly disappointing
given the Department's parallel involvement in producing "The
Historic Environment: A Force for our Future" and the increased
general awarenessfollowing the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreakof
the close links between farming, landscape quality, heritage,
tourism and the rural economy.
The weight accorded to departmental functions
and whether the Department is engineered to deliver its objectives
11. English Heritage believes that the creation
of DEFRA has marked a very important step forward in terms of
the administration of rural affairs. We particularly welcome the
increased emphasis that the new Department lays on environmental
protection, conservation, rural development and food safety. This
increased emphasis on issues other than agricultural policy represents
a long-overdue correction to the imbalance apparent within the
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We believe that the
weight accorded to agricultural policy within the new Department
now reflects far more accurately the comparative contribution
of farming to national GDP, while at the same time recognising
its key role in delivering landscape quality and biodiversity
as well as food.
12. It is too early to take a view on the
Department's internal organisation. This is still settling down
and will need time to bed in before its effectiveness can be fully
assessed. The Department was preoccupied with the Foot and Mouth
outbreak and its aftermath for several months after its creation,
which meant that its initial focus on agricultural and rural policy
issues tended to be at the expense of its profile in environmental
protection, urban affairs and international relations. As a result,
an erroneous perception has arisen that DEFRA are the department
for the countryside and DTLR (and now, presumably, the Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister) the lead department for urban affairs.
In recent months we have detected moves within DEFRA to counteract
this perception, not least through the Minister's vision statement.
13. Despite its important role in landscape
conservation, and the implications of many of its strategic or
operational decisions for the conservation or exploitation of
the rural heritage, DEFRA has acquired only very limited "in-house"
expertise in these areas. For example, its Rural Development Service
employs over forty in-house ecologists, but less than a handful
of professionally qualified staff dedicated to advising on archaeology
and historic buildings. Indeed, the number of landscape architects
employed by DEFRA in recent years has fallen from 11 to two. We
therefore believe that the Department is poorly equipped to deal
with the full range of environmental and landscape issues implied
by the new span of its responsibilities.
14. We are particularly keen to see DEFRA
establish effective relationships with other Departments with
an interest in rural affairs and environmental protection, particularly
with those responsible for planning and tourism. The planning
system is critical in delivering environmental protection. This
is not merely a matter of planning policy and casework, but also
the research and development needed to enable planning policy
to develop and improve. We would also like to see improved links
between DEFRA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport,
with its lead responsibilities for tourism and the historic environment.
These should include effective joint policy formulation and joint
support for the research necessary to support policy development.
15. With an annual budget of £250 million,
DEFRA's research and development programme is one of the most
significant in Government. As it reviews its science base under
its new Chief Scientist, we therefore hope it will carefully examine
the fit between its research programme and its new Departmental
vision. In the past, MAFF's scientific programme tended to focus
on agricultural, food and coastal defence issues. Any environmental
research tended to address issues relating solely to nature conservation,
rather than adopting a more holistic approach to the environment.
16. English Heritage would like to see DEFRA
undertake more social and economic research into tourism, the
historic environment and landscape character, and the role they
play in rural development. This should help address the poor understanding
of the complex relationships between farming, the environment
and the rural economy which was apparent in the Government's initial
failure to anticipate the economic consequences of its response
to the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
17. We would like to see research on the
social and economic value of the historic environment feed through
into more robust departmental indicators for landscape quality.
Currently, the Department's Key Performance Indicators and Public
Spending Agreement Indicators that relate to environmental conservation
are almost exclusively biodiversity targets. Apart from basic
indicators relating to field boundary survival, there are none
which track the condition of other historic landscape features,
historic farm buildings or general quality in the landscapeall
areas for which DEFRA has some departmental responsibility. Similarly,
the long-term Countryside Survey monitoring programme concerns
itself with nature conservation and natural resource issues, but
neglects the historic environment and more aesthetic considerations.
This monitoring initiative and related indicators were developed
by MAFF and DETR and inherited by DEFRA. We believe DEFRA should
now review them and remedy their deficiencies.
The role and effectiveness of the Environmental
Protection Group and the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate
following their transfer from DTLR
18. English Heritage has comparatively limited
involvement with DEFRA's Environmental Protection Directorate.
We have, however, recently developed a productive relationship
with its Waste Strategy section, having been invited to participate
in the mitigation of the impacts of aggregate extraction through
the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. We greatly welcome this
recognition of the historic environment as part of the bigger
environmental picture, and the willingness to create links to
an agency not sponsored by DEFRA.
19. We are nevertheless disappointed that
in its lead role for sustainable development, DEFRA has tended
to neglect the contribution of the historic (as distinct from
the natural) environment to the debate on sustainability. We hope
that in the future we will be able to establish better dialogue
and mutual understanding of the issues.
The Department's "rural affairs" agenda
and cross-departmental links
20. English Heritage believes that DEFRA
is making very positive steps to address the ``rural affairs''
agenda, although initial developments in this area were inevitably
hampered by the pressing demands of the Foot and Mouth Disease
21. The creation of a directorate dedicated
to Land Use and Rural Affairs has been a particularly important
achievement. This directorate already appears to have effectively
brought together the roles it inherited from MAFF and DETR and,
in many respects, it can be considered to be at the centre of
DEFRA's new departmental vision. The new directorate has already
undertaken a great deal of basic groundwork on which future achievements
can be founded. It displays a real commitment to partnership across
government and with the NGO sector. It has inherited the consultative
machinery that already surrounded the England Rural Development
Programme and the Rural White Paper commitment to Rural Sounding
Boards and has established and effective and coherent framework
for consulting a wide range of partners. It also appears to have
established an effective relationship with the Government Regional
Offices and with other partner organisations with a regional presence.
Successes include the England Rural Development Programme, delivered
through the Rural Development Service and the Government Offices,
and the Market Towns Initiative, delivered through the Countryside
Agency and the Regional Development Agencies. We believe that
new ERDP initiatives, such as Rural Enterprise Scheme and the
Vocational Training Scheme, also have great potential to stimulate
rural regeneration, provided that further rounds of CAP reform
alleviate their current under-funding.
22. The re-casting of the Farming and Rural
Conservation Agency as the Rural Development Service and its re-absorption
within DEFRA is another potentially important step in carrying
through the Department's rural affairs agenda. It will, however,
need adequate funding and considerable staff development if it
is to move beyond its current agriculture-centred focus.
1 "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our
Future", Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Department
for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, December 2001,
"English Heritage Quinquennial Review: Stage One Report"
Department for Culture, Medial and Sport, May 2002, London. Back