How will the spending cuts affects English Heritage’s work in the South East? This and other topics were discussed at a recent seminar organised by Turley Associates.
Philip Davies, English Heritage’s Territory Director for London and the South East, described where English Heritage has been left after the recent comprehensive spending review together with his thoughts on the practical implications, wider sectoral change and localism.
Roger Mascall, Head of Heritage Service at Turley, widened the theme to consider other key issues affecting the overall heritage sector, including being one year on from the introduction of PPS5, the implications of the Penfold Review and ‘barrier busting’ and, inevitably, the wider localism agenda.
Davies noted that after the spending review and a cut in funding of 32%, English Heritage is no longer under scrutiny and remains as an integrated body. This was also drawn into sharp focus against spending cuts in other bodies including Natural England and CABE.
But the figures are still stark; grant-in-aid will fall from £126.2 million to £92.1million by 2014/15; with ‘in-year’ cuts and infl ation, the funding gap in year four will mean English Heritage has £51 million less to spend. So what does this mean for service provision? The protected areas are:
- maintenance and conservation budgets for properties;
- capacity to give expert local planning advice;
- sufficient capacity to designate heritage;
- and the ability for revenue generation.
Davies noted that English Heritage’s structure was designed in 2002 for a bigger organisation. A reduction in the number of directors by eight, seven departments and one operational group was now being implemented. Davies explained the new structure including the role of the new National Planning Director, together with practical implications including moving offi ces, a recruitment freeze, redundancies and a review of property opening hours. The regional offi ces will remain and English Heritage maintains an unequivocal commitment to statutory casework and regulatory functions.
In terms of sectoral change, heritage protection reform remains on the agenda, despite the absence of new legislation, and the future of PPS5 within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) remains uncertain.
Commenting on the Localism Bill Davies noted the genuine confusion about what it meant and how it will be delivered. This included concerns over how Neighbourhood Development Orders could override planning considerations for listed buildings and conservation areas.
Mascall picked up on these themes to explore where heritage planning was going. In the light of reduced funding for English Heritage, he reflected on the continuing decline in heritage staffing in local planning authorities with less front-line staff to engage with in the planning process. He also noted that it was just about a year to the day that PPS5 had been published and that despite its streamlined nature was still seen as too long and prescriptive by some in the Government.
Its future, in the context of the NPPF, remains at best, uncertain. He highlighted the growing tension regarding the interpretation and implementation of policy control over conservation areas, and, in particular, over unlisted buildings. Whilst this may ultimately be decided by the courts, the policy highlights a clumsy approach to heritage policy formulation (perhaps in the hands of too many?) and the absence of necessary primary legislation to support the new concepts.
Similarly, the Government’s response to the Penfold Review of non-planning consents has illustrated that whilst it’s possible to merge applications for planning permission and conservation area consent, the absence of primary legislation prevents further streamlining.
Mascall also highlighted the related ‘barrier-busting’ initiative, which had resulted in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) including existing listed building and conservation area statutory duties in a list of those to be reviewed in seeking to lift the ‘burden’ of control. This is a phrase which resonates ominously with ‘lifting the burden’, the relaxation of planning controls in the late 1980s, which led, in effect, to planning by appeal.
This was followed by a discussion on the Localism Bill – in particular the disquiet caused by “schedule 12”, which had led English Heritage to suggest the Bill will reduce protection for heritage of more than local interest – where the neighbourhood planning process could by-pass control over listed buildings and conservation areas. Ministers are reviewing this but the revised draft of the Bill remained unaltered.
The subsequent debate with the invited audience, reached a broad level of consensus that localism is unlikely to deliver what the Government intends and that severe public sector heritage cuts will further restrict the active promotion of proposals through the planning process. This is not helped by clumsy policy and confused initiatives which may, rather than strengthen the local dimension, serve to actively undermine it.