Written evidence submitted by English
Heritage (LOCO 31)|
Heritage (EH), as the statutory adviser on the historic environment
to both national and local government, has a key interest in how
localism is implemented, in particular with reference to the planning
the full details of how localism will be encouraged in practice
have not yet emerged, EH has always acknowledged that local communities
play an important role in ensuring heritage and local distinctiveness
is preserved and have structured our services to help.
England's unique heritage and tackling heritage at risk is dependent
on local support, both from local government and from local people.
these reasons, English Heritage welcomes the localism initiative.
This does not, however, obviate the need for a national approach
to the recognition and protection of the Country's heritage. Consistent
and fair decisions relating to the historic environment must take
into account all communities of interest, and not just the local.
this national recognition and protection, we must ensure that
communities can identify and protect what is locally significant.
This complements, rather than competes with national designation.
like Arnos Vale cemetery show that the historic environment can
be a source of civic pride, and can provide a focus for local
civic action. Where they have become neglected, the regeneration
of local landmarks, with which communities have grown up, can
act as a catalyst for the revitalisation of a whole community
and increase social action.
in ownership can revitalise heritage assets and provide opportunities
for local communities. English Heritage, with other representatives
of the heritage sector, has prepared guidance on how to do this.
are over 400,000 people who regularly volunteer on heritage-related
projects, equating to around £335 million of unpaid work
(at the level of the minimum wage). This demonstrates the importance
that people attach to their local historic environment.
local people to take responsibility for heritage-related projects
increases local pride and sense of belonging, contributing to
community cohesion and offering a purpose and a voice to groups
and individuals. Heritage Counts 2009 reported the result
of research proving a direct link between heritage and how people
identify with their local area.
1. The extent to which decentralisation leads
to more effective public service delivery; and what the limits
are, or should be, of localism
Whilst there were benefits to the previous structure
of regional bodies and policies (Government Offices, Regional
Development Agencies and Regional Strategies), which supported
an integrated, co-ordinated approach to decision making, there
are also clear advantages to the more bottom-up approach which
is likely to result from a policy of "localism" and
the establishment of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Communities
and neighbourhoods, by being placed at the centre of decision
making, will be better placed to support local heritage and distinctiveness.
Protecting heritage assets
There does remain a need for national consistency
in deciding which heritage assets are and are not protected, to
ensure those elements of the historic environment which are of
national and international importance are identified and can receive
proportionate protection. This is a role currently undertaken,
within England, by English Heritage, in partnership with local
and national government. EH has the expertise and national overview
necessary for an objective justification for what parts of our
built heritage or archaeology should be conserved for future generations.
However, the existence of a national designation
regime does not preclude local input. The ability of local communities
to protect our heritage through local listing and the designation
of conservation areas is vital to the protection of locally valued
heritage. Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic
Environment states that heritage assets which appear on the
local lists will be a material consideration when assessing planning
applications. The compilation of these local registers affords
local communities a direct say in what is protected locally and
how this helps to protect and shape the future character of their
neighbourhood. Two examples of where communities have taken an
active role in developing local lists can be found in the work
of Colchester Historic Buildings Forum and North Tyneside Council.
There is no conflict between these two levels of
protecting our past, in fact they are complementary. Together
they ensure that buildings, places, monuments and areas which
we value as evidence of our past are not lost. They may be valued
as buildings of national or international importance, or they
can be local monuments that have a particular significance to
a community. Both may justify protection.
EH's role as national adviser for the historic environment
goes beyond that of managing the system of designation. We are
well-placed to provide information and to promulgate best practice
in the heritage sector (a role that may increase in importance
with the abolition of regional bodies and pressures on local authority
resources). For example, the West Midlands Farmsteads & Landscape
Project has worked with all upper tier local authorities and partners
across the West Midlands, to provide evidence on the character,
condition and use of historic farmsteadsinforming the policies
and actions that guide local development.
There are some practical problems associated with
devolving all plan making to a local level. It is important that
there remains a layer of strategic oversight to ensure that developments
in adjoining areas do not compromise the character of adjacent
buildings and areas, or their value to other communities. Local
Enterprise Partnerships clearly have a role to play in this regard,
which must be taken into account as their role within the planning
system is defined. There remains the possibility of tensions between
the agenda of local people and the wider community of interest
outside the local area. How these tensions are resolved will be
key to ensuring that planning functions effectively.
There is a risk that as local authorities are forced
to make difficult choices, such as making cuts to conservation
services, they will not be as well placed to respond to greater
community involvement. It is important that localism is not used
as an excuse to make cuts. Establishing a system whereby communities
are able to make a full contribution to local services, including
planning, is likely to incur costs and will need to be adequately
As local authorities continue to explore ways in
which they can cut costs, more are looking closely at disposing
of high maintenance properties. In response English Heritage,
along with partners in the heritage sector and the Asset Transfer
Unit have recently published guidance on how to make transfers
of heritage assets a success. Accompanying that guidance are a
number of case studies which highlight the benefits of such transfers.
Bridge Town Hall is a good example of a neglected historic building
being brought back into use by a range of local individuals and
organisations. The building was transferred into community ownership
by Calderdale Council last year, and planning and fundraising
for its future community use is now well advanced. The intention
is for the building to become a base for the delivery of public
services, delivered by public and voluntary organisations; contain
office accommodation for the local councils; and be used for meetings
We would urge authorities to look carefully at the
option of transferring assets to community groups and not just
seek to realise the highest price for any asset. Such transfers
can, if properly undertaken, provide a community group with much
needed stability (who then might also be able to become alternative
suppliers of local services).
2. The lessons for decentralisation from Total
Place, and the potential to build on the work done under that
initiative, particularly through place-based budgeting
The use of an integrated approach, such as that demonstrated
by Total Place, focuses resources where they are most needed and
can be deployed most efficiently.
An example of the contribution the historic environment
can make to this agenda can be found in Worcester where a recent
local authority-led project, part funded by English Heritage,
has made positive difference to a local community, where funding
for improvements to historic buildings has had wide ranging impacts.
As part of an area partnership scheme the Foregate Street and
Tything project had a three-year budget of £150,000 (50%
Worcester City Council, 50% EH). Local small businesses were able
to apply for small grants to make overdue repairs to the fabric
of their premises in historic buildings in a prominent conservation
area on a major route into the city. The scheme has resulted in
the significant improvement, raising the profile of local historic
buildings within a conservation area, and has attracted new customers
for the refurbished shops leading to a resurgent local economy.
In addition, shop-keepers have been able to convert unused first
and/or second floor space into flatswhich has attracted
to new residents to an area that was slowly declining for lack
of local population. These benefits all resulted from improving
the condition of local heritage.
3. The role of local government in a decentralised
model of local public service delivery, and the extent to which
localism can and should extend to other local agents
The need for a national overview in heritage protection,
providing a consistent approach, as well as benefitting from economies
of scale, was made above. In addition, as local authorities, like
all public bodies, are placed under tighter financial constraints,
they are likely to begin to struggle to provide expert advice
to local people. In such circumstances, the role of supra-regional
expert bodies, such as English Heritage, will become more important.
Such bodies are able to benefit from economies of scale develop
best practice, and support local authorities as they seek to engage
4. The action which will be necessary on the
part of Whitehall departments to achieve effective decentralised
public service delivery
Place-based budgeting is designed to reduce duplication
of effort and resources between different public bodies which
operate within the same locality and to recognise that one funding
stream can contribute to a number of different outcomes. We would
urge Whitehall departments to follow this example. For example,
as a result of Heritage Lottery Fund investment in the Sheffield
Cultural Industries Quarter conservation area the proportion of
respondents feeling safe or very safe rose from 73% to 98%. It
will be important that such opportunities can be identified by
the relevant government departments to that these type of initiatives
can be replicated at a national level.
5. The impact of decentralisation on the achievement
of savings in the cost of local public services and the effective
targeting of cuts to those services
It is important to establish that developing a localist,
decentralised agenda is not, in itself, a way of cutting costs
or increasing efficiency. Adequate support for improved community
engagement, not only through improved delivery of information,
but also through involving communities within the decision making
process, may require significant investment. Using the historic
environment as an example, if communities are to have a greater
say in planning decisions - decisions on how neighbourhoods and
areas will be developed or preservedthere will need to
be adequate levels of staffing in the relevant local government
departments. This does not mean that such departments should be
protected from cuts, but there needs to be a realistic assessment
of what the costs are of delivering the localism agenda. We are
seeing a number of authorities exploring the option of shared
services. Whilst this makes economic sense, it will potentially
put decision makers further away from the local communities affected
by their decisions. Any aspirations to increase community involvement
must take account of this.
There is also the risk that localism will discourage
the sharing of pilot projects from which best practice can be
developed. This is of course an area where national bodies, such
as English Heritage may have a more significant roleeither
supporting pilots ourselves or co-ordinating dissemination. Examples
of this type of work include the West Midlands Farmsteads projects
6. What, if any, arrangements for the oversight
of local authority performance will be necessary to ensure effective
local public service delivery
With the removal of centrally directed evaluation
of the type undertaken by the Audit Commission, it is vital that
local communities have sufficient information to make informed
decisions regarding the performance of local public services.
For our part English Heritage will continue to collect data on
Heritage at Risk and make that data publicly available.
7. How effective and appropriate accountability
can be achieved for expenditure on the delivery of local services,
especially for that voted by Parliament rather than raised locally