Memorandum submitted by the Essex Society
for Archaeology and History
1.1 The Society's
The Society was founded in 1852 with the primary
object of promoting and encouraging the study of archaeology and
history in the historic county of Essex. During the 150 years
of its existence the Society has achieved these objectives in
a variety of ways, and has made numerous significant contributions
to the better understanding of the county's historic heritage.
Amongst its other objectives, the Society has always aimed to
educate the wider community, as well as other bodies, on matters
of mutual interest and concern, and it is for this reason that
this submission is being made. The last membership figures showed
that the Society had 410 individual members and 87 institutional
members (principally universities and libraries). Unfortunately
the Society has only recently been made aware of this enquiry,
so its observations will be confined to what it considers to be
certain key areas.
1.2 Priorities for the forthcoming Heritage
(a) Heritage Environment Record (formerly
Sites and Monuments Record). It is the Society's view that there
should be a statutory obligation to maintain the HER. It is an
essential resource which enables local authorities to make informed
decisions on planning applications. Without this information,
there is no doubt that sites of major archaeological importance
will be overlooked and irreparably damaged by development. In
Essex, the HER is maintained at present by Essex County Council
on behalf of local authorities throughout the county. One unitary
authority maintains its own HER, with, in our view, inadequate
resources. The county council HER has recently been threatened
by severe spending cuts in the heritage budget, and is surviving
at present on short term contracts from local authorities. This
is very unsatisfactory for a service which is vital for the identification
and protection of important archaeological sites.
(b) Archive services. The Society believes
that archive services, which are essential for a better understanding
of the historic environment, should also be made statutory. One
result of the heritage budget cut referred to in (a) above was
a significant cut-back in the services provided by the county
record office, and the closure of one its branches. Unless this
service is made statutory, it will remain highly vulnerable to
In the Society's view, both of these services
are so essential for the protection and enhancement of the county's
heritage that they should have statutory protection.
1.2 Balance between heritage and development
The Society's view is that this is currently
heavily weighted in favour of development, and that this balance
should be moved in favour of heritage. In recent years the attitude
towards re-use of old buildings has changed considerably, and
this should perhaps be reflected in legislation. The fate of listed
buildings is of particular concern, and there have been many instances
in this county of the deliberate neglect of structures which are
unwanted, or in the way of development plans. Local authorities
are very reluctant to use their existing powers of enforcement
or compulsory purchase because of the very high costs involved.
These costs are not budgeted for, and are not usually recoverable.
This results in a "developer's charter" whereby a long
period of deliberate neglect is usually rewarded with a vacant
site and no financial penalty.
This is extremely unsatisfactory and poses a
constant threat to the heritage. One of the prime purposes of
listing buildings is undermined unless there is adequate protection
in place to protect them from unscrupulous or negligent owners.
The Society believes that local authorities need to be funded
adequately to enforce existing legislation and encouraged to use
it more effectively.
(a) The Society has general concerns about
this, and fears that heritage funding will be increasingly threatened
by the more glamorous demands of the 2012 Olympics. It is essential
that heritage funding should be clearly protected.
(b) The Society has a specific concern about
VAT on historic building repairs. New buildings are exempt, and
this provides a perverse incentive in favour of development over
conservation. It also may encourage the neglect referred to in
1.2 above. In our view, all repairs to listed buildings should
be zero rated.
1.4 Adequate supply of professionals with
The Society's view is that the county council
does an excellent job in providing professional expertise in archaeology
and historic buildings, as well as organising practical training
courses for craftsmen involved in historic building repair. However
all of these have been severely threatened by the budgetary cuts
already referred to.
Until this year, professional advice on archaeology
and historic buildings had been provided free of charge to local
authorities, and the county council had assembled a remarkable
team with knowledge ranging from the Bronze Age to World War II
fortifications. As a result of the budget cuts, local authorities
were given the option of either providing these services themselves,
or buying them from the county council. Realistically, it would
have been impossible for any local authorities to provide the
necessary level of expertise to make informed planning decisions,
and it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain
the service commercially. Fortunately the majority of local authorities
decided to buy in these services, albeit on short term contracts.
The future remains very uncertain and it is
this Society's opinion that the specialist expertise that has
been available from the county council is essential to protect
potentially rich (and often previously unknown) archaeological
sites, as well as historic buildings. This range of knowledge
cannot be adequately provided at local authority level.
11 January 2006