Historic Scotland and Local Authorities

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:34 pm on 23 April 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:34, 23 April 2008

The next item of business is a debate on S3M-1751, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on Historic Scotland and local authorities.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 3:16, 23 April 2008

I am pleased to open the debate, which allows me to highlight the many ways in which central and local government are working together to deliver a sustainable future for Scotland's historic environment.

That historic environment is hugely significant to Scotland, not as a museum piece, but as a dynamic evolving resource whose future relies on carefully managed change that is based on an understanding of its specialist qualities. We recognise its importance as heritage in its own right and for tourism, but it also contributes to sustainability, place making, community identity, local distinctiveness and, of course, employment. It can be sustained only by a broad partnership of owners, government and business working together to secure its future.

Central to that partnership is the relationship between Historic Scotland, as the national agency that is responsible for the historic environment, and local authorities, which have a broader role in relation to development planning, economic development, culture and education. That close relationship is exemplified in many ways throughout the country, in particular by one of Historic Scotland's major recent initiatives: the creation of the conservation area regeneration scheme. Under the previous Administration, £8 million was allocated for that scheme, with moneys to be released between 2007 and 2012. That fund provides financial assistance for the area-based regeneration and conservation initiatives that local authorities undertake, principally in the historic centres of towns and burghs.

There was heavy demand for the scheme when it was launched, and 37 separate bids were made that totalled around £19 million. Historic Scotland is currently supporting 18 projects, including those in Stornoway, Kilmarnock, Bo'ness and Banff. The scheme has been a major success and many local authorities have said that they want it to continue. I am sure that colleagues from all parties will be delighted that I am able to announce that Historic Scotland has allocated up to £8 million for a further round of that very popular scheme, which will again be spent over five years. That funding will be targeted at councils that have not yet benefited, and at areas in which existing conservation projects can be enhanced with additional resources.

I am pleased to outline a number of other measures that will improve partnership working and benefit management of our historic environment, in response to points that were made by—among others—the Historic Environment Advisory Council for Scotland, in its 2006 report on the role of local government in the historic environment. We have concluded, as part of our commitment to streamlining the public sector, that HEACS does not need to be retained beyond its agreed work plan, which continues. However, the hard work of the council's individual members and the quality of its contribution to debates such as this is hugely appreciated, and I want to record my gratitude for its professionalism across the board.

Much of the joint working between local authorities and Historic Scotland flows from the agency's role in development planning and management. Local authorities have the opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience within the agency, adding value to the wealth of knowledge and experience of their own specialist staff. However, as has been noted many times, there is scope for confusion about roles and overlap of activities.

Our historic environment is rich and varied. Rightly, we recognise the need to distinguish between what is best managed locally and what needs an element of national protection. Local authorities identify and manage a range of local designations, including heritage areas, archaeology sites and conservation areas, which are areas of local value that have a distinctive character that is important to the community. Historic Scotland is responsible on behalf of ministers for identifying parts of our historic environment that are of particular value at national level—notably for scheduling monuments such as the stone circle at Brodgar on Orkney and the listing of buildings such as Castlemilk stables in Glasgow, the recent renovation of which was partly funded by Historic Scotland.

Such designations are intended to help to manage change, not to prevent it. The management of change is largely administered by local authorities in their role as planning authorities. I am sure that Parliament will be pleased to learn that the agency's approach is developing rapidly. It aims to enable all partners to maximise their particular contributions.

We must protect our heritage while promoting growth and development. Central to that are the new joint working agreements that are being developed in response to demand from local authorities. The agreements will set out what is expected of each partner in relation to management of change in the historic environment. They are intended to allow issues to be dealt with as locally as possible and to ensure that Historic Scotland is involved only when it can add value: it should not replicate work that local authorities have already done. Initial discussions have been held between my officials and a number of local authorities, and the joint working agreements will be launched in May. Local authorities will be invited to sign up during the remainder of the year.

I am pleased to confirm that, when local authorities sign up to the joint working agreements, we will also be able to offer them the opportunity to acquire delegated powers to deal with listed-building casework, as is permitted under planning legislation. That approach has the potential to streamline the current process significantly without any threat to the historic environment. We plan to pilot such schemes with a small number of local authorities this year—the City of Edinburgh Council, Glasgow City Council and Perth and Kinross Council. I hope that the experience of those early enthusiasts will energise others to follow suit.

To support all that work and ensure efficient handling, Historic Scotland was included in the wider e-planning programme that the Government is promoting to allow much more to be done online. I am pleased that, this year, Historic Scotland will become fully integrated with the e-planning programme. If local authorities wish, they will be able to consult the agency more quickly and cheaply than previously, which will help to ensure that more planning applications meet the targets that ministers have set. In that context, I announce that I have agreed with Historic Scotland a new key performance target for dealing with planning consultation—70 per cent within 14 days this year, rising to 90 per cent in 2009-10. The agency already has a target of clearing 97 per cent of listed building consent notifications within 28 days. This year, it exceeded that. The new target shows that Historic Scotland is contributing to the Government's wider agenda through its continuing commitment to the development of a modern, streamlined planning system for Scotland.

The efficiencies that are created by those modernising initiatives will not be wasted. Instead, they will enable Historic Scotland to give strategic support to local authorities throughout Scotland in ways that are simply not possible at present. I firmly believe that the initiatives will contribute significantly to an even stronger relationship between Historic Scotland and local government.

Of course, there are many other ways in which local government and Historic Scotland work together, including management of properties in care. The agency has properties in care in every local authority area except East Renfrewshire. Its work therefore brings it into contact with local authorities in many ways, such as through formal partnerships, local liaison groups and other initiatives. There is also partnership work with groups that aim to improve access and develop tourism. For example, current initiatives include working to improve the Edinburgh castle tattoo and delivering interpretation in Kilmartin Glen in Argyll and Bute, and at Whithorn priory in Dumfries and Galloway, to name just a couple.

Partnership working happens on the world stage, too. Historic Scotland and Orkney Islands Council are co-signatories to the statement of intent for the heart of Neolithic Orkney world heritage site. The partners work closely to implement the management plan and arrange access to, and interpretation of, the sites.

I have outlined new initiatives today: an additional £8 million will go to the conservation area regeneration scheme; there will be a joint working agreement to detail the roles and responsibilities of Historic Scotland and local authorities; there is potential for delegated powers in listed building casework; and there are e-planning integration and the key performance targets. I hope that colleagues throughout the chamber will welcome those initiatives.

I will use my final minute to say a word about the amendments to the motion. I am pleased to accept the amendment in the name of Malcolm Chisholm. What it proposes will complement what everyone is trying to do to protect our heritage assets. The skills that are required to maintain historic buildings are hugely important. Work is continuing in that regard. In addition, we should take proper account of disability rights and climate change objectives.

Likewise, I am happy to accept the amendment that Iain Smith lodged on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. There are perceptions that Historic Scotland and local authorities sometimes do not work well enough together to ensure that everyone is informed of the work that they do. I am more than happy to consider that in order to try to improve consultation of local communities, where it is required, on designation of listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

Unfortunately, much as I would like to accept the amendment in the name of Ted Brocklebank, I am unable to do so. I understand that cases must often be considered on an individual basis, but I feel that what the second part of the amendment proposes would not be particularly helpful for the overall role of all who are concerned to protect our heritage.

I commend the motion to Parliament, and I am happy to accept the amendments in the name of Malcolm Chisholm and Iain Smith.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the unique relationship between Historic Scotland and local authorities in the protection of the nation's historic environment and welcomes initiatives to modernise and simplify that relationship to the benefit of local authorities, Historic Scotland and stakeholders.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 3:27, 23 April 2008

I welcome the announcement of the £8 million to continue the work of the conservation area regeneration scheme, and the key performance targets for planning consultation, which came up during the course of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill. I also welcome what the minister described as the new joint working agreement, although I think that it has been on-going for some time. Indeed, it was one of the recommendations of the review of Historic Scotland in 2004, which I will talk about in a moment.

The minister pointed out that those and other initiatives were responses to the Historic Environment Advisory Council for Scotland's report. I regret the council's prospective demise, because it is important that ministers receive independent advice on historic environment matters.

Setting that aside, I read the minister's response to the report, and I was slightly puzzled when I heard that this debate was to be about new powers for local authorities, because recommendation 3 of the report referred to reassessing the balance of work between Historic Scotland and local authorities. In her response to the report, the minister noted recommendation 3 and stated:

"We believe the balance is about right".

It is clear that the minister has moved on in one regard and is now talking about delegated powers to deal with listed building casework. I hope that she can say a bit more about that in her wind-up speech, because local authorities already have considerable powers and responsibilities with reference to listed buildings.

We are still slightly unsure, therefore, about the detail of what is proposed. If it is within the kind of framework that the HEAC report proposed, I am happy to go along with the thrust of the motion. However, it is important to add my amendment, the first part of which is crucial, because all of what is proposed must take place within a framework of continuing, strong safeguards to protect heritage assets.

It is clear that Historic Scotland is central to that protection, and I pay tribute to it for all its work. In 1997, I had, among many other ministerial responsibilities, responsibility for it, but I recognise that there has been significant culture change since then. In that context, we should pay tribute to the work of Patricia Ferguson, who I hope will speak later about that and many other matters.

Historic Scotland's structure and function was reviewed in 2004. One recommendation was that there should be concordats with local authorities, work on which, I understand, has been on-going since. Increased flexibility was recommended to ensure that the organisation is responsive to change, which is relevant to what my amendment says about disability rights and climate change, which I will cover in a moment. The review also led to a change in Historic Scotland's organisational structure, including the establishment of regional inspectorate teams that put the closer relationship with local authorities on a more systematic base.

"Scottish Historic Environment Policy 1: Scotland's Historic Environment", which is the first in a series of important policy statements that the previous Administration initiated, also emphasises the importance of Historic Scotland working in partnership with local authorities. As well as setting out key outcomes, it reminds us of an important message for the debate:

"The protection of the historic environment is not about preventing change", but about managing change "intelligently and with understanding". The best approach involves Historic Scotland working alongside local authorities and developers in order to manage change in that way.

There are many outstanding examples of such an approach being taken. Colleagues in the City of Edinburgh Council to whom I spoke talked about how the council has worked constructively with Historic Scotland over the past few years to ensure that change is managed in a way that is sensitive to the historic environment. Some time ago, Elaine Murray spoke in the Parliament about how Historic Scotland worked on the Crichton campus in partnership with the developer and local authorities. That also happened with Taymouth castle. John Swinney raised issues relating to that castle with me when I was minister with responsibility for planning; Historic Scotland then engaged with the developer. I have been reliably informed that there has been an outstanding conclusion to that work. Such work goes on all the time, and it is far more typical of what happens than the one or two examples of Historic Scotland rejecting proposed changes that we may hear about in the debate.

Moreover, people are often on the side of Historic Scotland rather than that of the local authority when there is a disagreement. Somebody recently talked to me about the site of the battle of Bothwell bridge, which the local authority wanted to develop. Historic Scotland, supported by local people, took a different view.

Communities that are questioned about the importance of the historic environment give it a high wellbeing rating. As the HEACS report reminded us, there is little recognition of the historic environment in community plans. The report stated that it would be a good idea to work up qualitative and quantitative indicators for including the historic environment in community planning. In her response to the report, the minister said that she would explore the matter after the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 was fully implemented. I am not clear why there should be a delay.

It is important that in the debate we raise concerns that have been expressed about the national outcome indicators for local authorities. I am sure that concerns will have been expressed to other members about those indicators. It seems that not all local authorities will have historic environment measures in their single outcome agreements. It would be helpful if the minister commented on that.

I referred to the 2004 review's message of flexibility in response to change, which is relevant to two issues that my amendment highlights. I refer to constituency examples that I have been given. In taking advice from Historic Scotland, the local authority objected to a lift being installed in a mental health crisis centre, because the building was listed. Disability campaigners and local people in general objected to that, as I did. It is important that Historic Scotland responds to the new legislation and the new emphasis on disability rights.

Climate change is clearly in the same category. There are probably more listed buildings in my constituency than there are in any other constituency in Scotland, not least because it contains the new town. A solar panel on a house in a conservation area on the edge of the new town was recently rejected. Again, it is important that Historic Scotland takes on board the green revolution. We also hope that the SNP takes that on board, as we seem to have had a green counter-revolution this week in Lewis; however, that is slightly off the point of the debate.

My amendment highlights the fact that we should continue to ensure that the skills that are required to maintain our historic buildings, such as stonemasonry, are available in Scotland. To achieve that, it is important that we support as many projects as we can that ensure the survival of those skills and promote training.

The HEACS report's recommendation on the need for historical environment legislation is also relevant. In its manifesto, the SNP was committed to such legislation, but it seems to have changed its mind. Perhaps the minister can tell us why, and why she has changed her mind about merging the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland with Historic Scotland. In addition, the minister talked about statutory protection for battlefield sites, which was in the SNP's manifesto. Is that still on the agenda?

In closing, I congratulate Historic Scotland on its record-breaking attendance figures at its buildings in the past year. I believe that the total number of visitors passed the 3 million mark for the first time last year, and the figure has now reached 3,239,000. We should also remember the National Trust for Scotland, representatives of which I met recently, and the Historic Houses Association, representatives of which I will meet next week. Both those organisations work together with Historic Scotland in the historic properties group. Their role in both conserving Scotland's heritage and presenting it for education and enjoyment cannot be overstated. I am sure that we all pay tribute to that work.

I move amendment S3M-1751.2, to insert at end:

"always ensuring that strong safeguards are maintained to protect heritage assets, that the skills required to maintain historic buildings are available and that, in protecting the historic environment, proper account is taken of disability rights and climate change objectives".

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 3:37, 23 April 2008

I am a fan of Historic Scotland, although there are aspects of its operation with which I disagree, to which I will return. I continue to believe that the agency is underfunded, as it was by the previous Executive. However, it generally does a good job in preserving Scotland's unique historical environment. I welcome the £8 million in funding that the minister has announced today.

Of course, Historic Scotland is not perfect. Arguably, the adjective "historic" has become somewhat debased through its overuse by the First Minister—if I never again hear the phrase "historic concordat" it will be too soon. A review of Historic Scotland that the Executive carried out in 2004 concluded that there was a clear need for a culture change in the agency. Perhaps a name change would also help. I welcome the minister's assurances that a culture change is well under way. Nevertheless, given some of the on-going cases, to which I will refer later, I hae some doots.

Scots have never been more fascinated by the events that shaped the nation's history, both since the union of 1707 and going back to the time when the land of the Scots first emerged in the fallout between the feuding Picts, the Celts and Athelstane's west Saxons. Equally, television has never been more fascinated with Scottish history, and it is fitting that universities such as the University of Abertay Dundee are now world leaders in providing the computer graphics that help to bring history alive. The welcome TV coverage has helped to revitalise the tourism industry, as we have heard from Malcolm Chisholm, with historical buildings in particular attracting record numbers in the past year. Edinburgh and Stirling castles still lead the way. However, according to Historic Scotland, Corgarff castle in Aberdeenshire and Kisimul castle in Barra are among the 300 buildings in its care that have had huge increases in their visitor numbers over the past year, which is to be welcomed.

Although Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, which it often works in conjunction with, have saved many of our most venerable and vulnerable buildings and sites, there are buildings all over Scotland on the at-risk register—many of them listed—that are simply crumbling away. Largo house, an impressive Adam pile in my part of Fife, is one such building. The usual argument from Historic Scotland and the Scottish Civic Trust, which holds the at-risk register, is that there is a lack of funds, and there is justification for that claim. The agency's grant from the SNP has increased by some 8 per cent this year, but as far as I can judge it is due to dip again next year to below the level under the previous Executive in real terms.

Although we should praise aspects of Historic Scotland's role, we should also recognise the role of private landowners who have played a major part in preserving our cultural and historical heritage. In this connection, Historic Scotland must be sensible about working with proprietors to achieve agreement, particularly over contested sites or buildings, and where it has no realistic way of finding the necessary finance to achieve the degree of preservation that it often seeks to dictate.

In 2003, after a battle lasting nearly a decade, Alistair Dickson bulldozed Lanrick castle, a ruinous, B-listed Victorian edifice near Doune, which he owned. Historic Scotland and the Scottish Civic Trust were unable to contribute funds to the building's upkeep, but they insisted that the owner pay to prevent it from becoming a public danger. Mr Dickson was fined £1,000 for pulling it down. No one condones breaking the law, but it is hard not to disagree with the sheriff who criticised Stirling Council for being inept in ordering the owner to make the ruins safe while simultaneously informing him that he would need listed building consent, which might take months, before he could take the required action. Sheriff Wylie Robertson accurately described it as "bureaucratic nonsense".

A similar bureaucratic nonsense exists at Crawford priory near Cupar in Fife. Negotiations have been going on with Historic Scotland for nearly four decades. The priory is another ruinous, B-listed building that Historic Scotland will not allow the owner to pull down. Because of a lack of commitment to provide funding, the building has become a ruin and a public hazard.

I referred to yet another bureaucratic nonsense—the case of the second world war airfield, HMS Jackdaw, at Crail in Fife—in a question to the minister last week. Historic Scotland says that it is the best-preserved world war two airfield in Scotland, despite the fact that it played no role in world war two and it has been lying derelict for decades. The owner has, in effect, been prevented from farming or developing his own land since the listing was granted a decade ago. In the view of even the most conservation-minded, it must be tempting to say that Historic Scotland should put up or shut up.

At a time when we are told that Historic Scotland is undergoing a major culture change, it is depressing that the Kilrymont annexe to Madras college in St Andrews, which was built in 1967 along the dreary lines of similar Fife educational establishments, cannot be bulldozed to allow Madras college to move to a long-overdue single-site school without obtaining listed building consent, because Kilrymont's allegedly striking pagoda roof is B-listed.

In previous debates on this subject, I have referred to Castle Tioram on the Ardnamurchan peninsula—a listing absurdity that I will not reprise on this occasion. However, Historic Scotland has guardianship over several similar ruins that are kept as a result of what I can only describe as genteel necrophilia. They are lovingly sustained skeletons of structures that could be restored and made to earn their keep as living buildings again.

We welcome the minister's assurances about the streamlining of Historic Scotland. Let us hope that it will mean fewer grand strategies, less defending of the indefensible, and more genuine community, public and stakeholder involvement.

I move amendment S3M-1751.1, to insert at end:

"and seeks a more compatible approach in relation to resolving disputes with stakeholders, particularly where Historic Scotland has no realistic means of funding its desired preservation or conservation outcomes".

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:43, 23 April 2008

I welcome this rare opportunity to focus on the role of Historic Scotland. At one point, I was concerned about whether there would be a ministerial statement, and whether we would require to reschedule the debate to preserve it. I suppose that we are all delighted that we have an extra two minutes in which to make our points.

No one can be in any doubt about the significance of Scotland's unique built environment. It creates a link to centuries and millennia of history—from the first signs of human life in these islands to our somewhat brutal and bloody past, the enlightenment, our industrial heritage, up to the modern day—and to iconic buildings, such as the Holyrood Parliament in which we are sitting.

No one doubts the importance of the built environment to Scotland's economy and communities. Malcolm Chisholm mentioned the number of visitors to Edinburgh castle. Every year, more and more people come to see it and hundreds of other historic buildings throughout our country, which benefits our tourism industry. Those buildings will also play a valuable role in promoting next year's year of homecoming.

In my constituency of North East Fife, we have many examples of some of the finest listed buildings, scheduled monuments and conservation areas, which not only boost tourism but define the type of community that North East Fife is. They include St Andrews, with its castle and cathedral; Falkland palace and conservation village; harbours such as Crail and Cellardyke; Kellie castle and gardens; St Monans church; and Ceres and many other villages with conservation areas that protect the integrity of the historic townscapes while ensuring that they remain vibrant communities.

Historic Scotland plays a vital role in designating and preserving such valuable national assets so that they can be enjoyed not only by us but by future generations. Most of what Historic Scotland does, as Malcolm Chisholm rightly said, it does well, but there are concerns that it can be out of touch and inflexible. In particular, it can be unaccountable to the people and communities that are affected by its decisions.

The built environment is a living entity. For buildings to survive, they must be able to adapt to new uses and functions, otherwise they become redundant and fall into ruin or are demolished to make way for something new. There is a fine line to be drawn between preservation and blight. At times, it seems that Historic Scotland would rather see a building or site fall into decay than engage with its owners and with communities to find ways for sensible and sensitive redevelopment and restoration. Making works unaffordable often leads to nothing being done, so that rather than preserve buildings we create eyesores. Historic Scotland can place burdens on property owners without having any responsibility to assist them to meet those burdens.

In that respect, I have some sympathy with Ted Brocklebank's amendment, but I share the minister's concerns about its wording, which implies that the final responsibility for funding any works on a listed building or scheduled monument should fall on Historic Scotland and the public purse. Had the final clause not included the words "Historic Scotland" but simply stated "particularly where there is no realistic means of funding the desired preservation or conservation outcomes", we could probably have supported his amendment. However, we cannot support it as it stands.

A major concern is the process by which Historic Scotland designates a building or monument as listed or scheduled. The process seems to be shrouded in mystery. Although Historic Scotland is required to consult the local authority before making a designation, neither Historic Scotland nor the local authority are required to consult the communities affected. Often, the first that local people know about it is when a notice appears stating that a building has been listed, to the bafflement of the local community.

For example, last summer—Ted Brocklebank mentioned this example, but I will repeat it as it affects my community—Historic Scotland decided, for reasons known only to itself, that Madras college in Kilrymont Road, St Andrews, should be B-listed. The building is a typical 1960s-design secondary school, which one former pupil described to me as "ghastly". Madras college is one of Scotland's last split-site secondary schools, with part of the school located in the 1960s eyesore on Kilrymont Road and part in the original, much older, building on South Street. Both buildings are in need of significant repair, and the accommodation was panned by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. It is generally accepted that the best solution would be to replace both buildings with a new single-site school. However, the listing of the building, which no one wants to keep, may make redevelopment of the site—and therefore the possibility of a new school—more difficult.

Another example, which Ted Brocklebank also mentioned, is the world war two airfield at Crail. I have been involved for some time in trying to find a solution to that problem. The airfield is largely a series of ramshackle prefabricated buildings in various states of disrepair. When the site was mysteriously scheduled about a decade ago, the owner was prevented from redeveloping it. It took some time for me to be able to initiate a meeting involving the owner, the local community, the local council and Historic Scotland so that we could try to find a way forward. That meeting took place some time ago, but progress remains slow even though Historic Scotland has agreed to deschedule some of the site. In the meantime, the site is being used for purposes such as trash and drag racing, which cause considerable inconvenience to the local community.

I welcome the minister's pilot scheme, which I hope will be a step in the right direction. However, I am sure that she recognises that local authority planning and enforcement officers are under considerable pressure, not least in preparing for the implementation of the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006. I would welcome an assurance from her that appropriate resources will be made available to the pilot authorities, including the possibility of seconding staff from Historic Scotland.

The role of Historic Scotland would be greatly enhanced if it engaged more effectively with local communities. That is what my amendment intends to achieve. I thank the minister for her support and I commend my amendment to the Parliament.

I move amendment S3M-1751.3, to insert at end:

"and encourages Historic Scotland to work with local authorities to improve the consultation with local communities on the designation of listed buildings and scheduled monuments".

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to the debate. Speeches should be of six minutes.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:49, 23 April 2008

I very much welcome this opportunity to explore the co-operation between Historic Scotland and local authorities, which the minister has enhanced today with the announcement about how such co-operation will proceed. The joint working agreements and pilot scheme that Iain Smith mentioned are a great step forward, with delegated powers being given to local authorities. They underline the message that we are all responsible for our landscape, and that we ought to be able to understand it and have the backing of the statutory authorities to ensure that it is looked after.

Landscapes and townscapes vary greatly throughout the country. In the past 30 years alone, we have found out about 60 per cent more information about prehistory thanks to the Ordnance Survey's better methods. As a result, a vast backlog of interpretation has to be undertaken. Will the minister help us in that regard by ensuring that the booklets that explain Scottish historic environment policy include one on interpretation? We have to examine how Historic Scotland and other bodies work together to bring out the stories in which particular buildings and monuments play a part.

There is little interpretation of sites that people do not pay to enter. As a result, the whole history can be missed. I am interested in the interpretation of such sites—it would be easy to do. I represent Orkney, where the world heritage site is an excellent example of co-ordination between Historic Scotland and the local authority.

Scattered throughout Scotland are properties and places associated with particular episodes in Scottish history, such as the Jacobites, the development of the Christian church, the wars of independence and the clearances. Historic Scotland and NTS have a responsibility to present to the public how a particular building or site relates to the development of our nation's story. Interpretation will follow and prosper if there is greater involvement between Historic Scotland, the local authorities and our communities.

We all agree that community planning should be much more involved with the historic landscape. Local people are often the best guardians of sites and information that could be better interpreted if they got backing. I look forward to the minister's response to that point.

I am delighted to note the extra money for the conservation area regeneration scheme. Perhaps it will be spent on some of the incomplete exercises of the past five years and on new exercises that have not yet begun. For example, a lot of work is going on in Wick. In conservation areas such as Argyle Square in Pulteneytown, for which Thomas Telford created the plans and in which people then built their houses, Historic Scotland imposes strong restrictions on what people's windows can look like. Although there is cash to support window replacement, Historic Scotland sometimes goes over the top in trying to recreate the 18th and 19th centuries. The other half of Argyle Square has been altered by the addition of a glass panel in the area outside the church, and at the other end of the square a very unsightly shop takes up a corner site. If we are going to do the job properly, there must be investment in the whole of Argyle Square. Many of the residents would like to see proposals that are part of a wider plan from Historic Scotland, rather than receive rather curt treatment when seeking to replace their windows.

I am delighted that we have the support of HEACS in ensuring that every public body has a duty of care and that concordats—a useful word with an historical resonance—will be developed. I am also delighted that the issues will be debated, because such debates allow people to feel involved. I very much welcome the minister's commitment to the approach and I hope to see its fruits in due course.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 3:55, 23 April 2008

I welcome this debate on Historic Scotland and its joint working with local authorities, because we should discuss its role in administering Scotland's historic sites and making the country's history relevant to today's society. The debate is certainly relevant, given the concerns that have been expressed in the chamber about the organisation. Indeed, at last week's general question time, Alex Neil raised his own strong concerns with the minister.

However, I will be positive about Historic Scotland and draw the chamber's attention to its work with South Lanarkshire Council on the refurbishment of Rutherglen town hall. Indeed, that project highlights the positive aspects of the Labour amendment and shows how Historic Scotland can work with local councils.

Rutherglen has a strong history; in fact, it was granted royal burgh status in 1126. The town hall, which was built in 1861, originally had not only a council chamber and public hall but a courthouse and a jail. However, I should point out that the jail is no longer part of the building, just in case the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is thinking of using it to tackle overcrowding in prisons.

One of the town hall's most impressive features is its 110ft clock tower, which stands in both old and more recent photographs of Main Street as a strong symbol of continuity and community. Sadly, in the 1980s, the town hall fell into disrepair and became unfit for public use. However, in the late 1990s, South Lanarkshire Council took up the cudgels and began a refurbishment programme that led in 2007 to the building reopening. Historic Scotland contributed £500,000 to the programme, which stands as a model of how historic buildings in a modern Scotland should be renovated Rutherglen town hall is now very much used as a community base. Indeed, since becoming MSP for the area, I have attended a fair number of community meetings there. Disabled access has been much improved and lifts ensure that all the facilities on every floor, including the very excellent cafe, are open and accessible to all sectors of the community.

The building's original stone facades were retained, which required a lot of skill from stonemasons. The need for such skills shows the relevance of apprenticeships—and the modern apprenticeships scheme—in Scotland, which is an issue that Labour has been pushing not only this afternoon but in its overall political agenda.

As for joint working with councils, the minister mentioned the introduction of key performance targets for planning. I should point out that South Lanarkshire Council was given an award for the way in which it planned this refurbishment, and its work should be praised.

As an MSP who represents an urban seat, it is important for me to point out that there are many historic sites in urban constituencies. Such sites are not exclusive to rural constituencies or to constituencies in the Highlands, to which people often look when they think of Scotland's history. Quite a lot of archaeological work is being done along the route of the new M74, for example, and the digging up of the site of the Caledonian pottery mill in Rutherglen has got many local schools involved and has reignited an interest in Rutherglen's history. The television series "Time Team" has shown all of us how interesting such exercises can be. There is strong evidence of that in my local community.

As regards the debate's political implications, we want a Historic Scotland that is strong, open and relevant, which works closely with local authorities and which listens to and has a strong base in communities. If those aspects are taken into account, we can ensure that Scotland's history has a role to play in shaping the country's future.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 4:01, 23 April 2008

I am pleased to take part in a debate during which we have heard about numerous anomalies and difficulties relating to the work of our colleagues in Historic Scotland. It will come as no surprise that, as many other members have done, I will raise a long-standing issue. I have a particular interest in the conflict between Historic Scotland and the owner of Castle Tioram up in Ardnamurchan. Although the castle is not in my constituency, it holds a cultural importance for the people of the west Highlands.

Highland Council and Historic Scotland entered into direct conflict over the castle when Historic Scotland overturned the democratic decision of the entire Highland Council to approve a planning application to develop the castle. Historic Scotland refused to give its permission for the proposal.

Members might be interested to learn that I was born and brought up, and still live, only a few miles from the famous Eilean Donan castle, which has become an iconic monument of Scotland and which is recognised both nationally and, I dare say, globally. The castle was a ruin until its restoration in 1930. I am very thankful that Historic Scotland was not around in the 1930s because, under the current regime, Eilean Donan would have been left to be nothing more than a pile of rocks. Despite the absence of any original architectural plans or pictures, the castle was rebuilt from a far worse state than Castle Tioram to become a huge economic asset to Scotland and the Highlands.

It has been suggested to me that the principal reason for Historic Scotland's intransigence over the redevelopment of Castle Tioram is that, at the time of the property's sale, the organisation advised a bidder that under no circumstances would planning consent be granted. As a result, the bidder put in a far lower offer and was unsuccessful. Will the minister give an undertaking to find out whether that assertion is correct? If it is, the fear of being sued—given that we live in an age of litigation—might explain Historic Scotland's attitude, even if it does not excuse it.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

You alluded to Eilean Donan castle as having been a pile of rocks, but I remind you that it was under your party's Administration that Castle Tioram remained a pile of rocks.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

That did not happen under my party's Administration.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

I do not think that the issue was ever debated seriously in the Scottish Parliament, because it was simply a planning matter between Highland Council and Historic Scotland. Highland Council was delighted to approve the application on more than one occasion but, despite the council's best efforts, Historic Scotland's view prevailed.

However, new arrangements between Historic Scotland and local authorities are being put in place and buildings will have to be considered as living structures. The planning rules must allow buildings to continue to develop so that they remain useful assets for their owners and the communities in which they are found. Planning rules on historic buildings must never be used to slam on the brakes, preserve only what is there and let nature and the elements continue to erode some of our most famous structures. It is ridiculous that planners require a building's owner to preserve all alterations that were undertaken during the building's lifetime but do not allow the owner to make further alterations to maintain the structure's usefulness, as previous owners did.

Given those circumstances, I cannot disagree with the Scottish Government's decision to take away powers from Historic Scotland and give them to Glasgow City Council, the City of Edinburgh Council and Perth and Kinross Council—the sooner that happens, the better. Why not give the powers to all local authorities and then maybe consider abolishing Historic Scotland entirely?

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 4:06, 23 April 2008

I thank John Farquhar Munro for reminding us that one of Scotland's iconic structures dates from only about 70 years ago, thus depriving us of any historical authenticity when Errol Flynn rode across the castle in the adaptation of Stevenson's "The Master of Ballantrae", which itself made a pile of rubble of Stevenson's novel.

How we regard our history has always changed over time. Let us recollect that even the great Lord Cockburn—an association with whose name governs the development of Edinburgh—loathed classical Edinburgh and regarded it as a terrible carbuncle, as someone once said, on the face of the city. Let us also recollect that the great actor Moultrie Kelsall used to characterise Scotland's attitude to its past as late as the 1960s as, "There's an auld hoose; ding it doon!" Let us recollect that the University of Glasgow, at the height of its scientific achievement in the 1860s, was prepared to knock down its renaissance building and replace it with a sensible goods station in the High Street. So much for romanticism.

Let us recollect also that the Bruce report on Glasgow in 1948 recommended devastating the entire central city area, including God knows how many buildings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and replacing it with something out of Le Corbusier. Let us recollect how Princes Street in Edinburgh was redeveloped by the Scottish elite, including the members of the New Club, in the 1960s, until practically every building of historic value had been knocked down. A development politician in Glasgow, who shall be nameless, was characterised by my Labour friend Robin Cook as a man who would not rest until he had knocked down every listed building in the town.

We have changed since those days, but if we are to reinforce the approach that the minister proposed, we require a much greater degree of public engagement in our civic architecture in Scotland. The man who said to a northern English town, "You want me to tell you what Bradford should produce; I want you to tell me what Bradford ought to be", was a Scotsman—John Ruskin. His attitude should remain central in our minds.

How do we handle a situation in which our historic environment is one of our picture cards for our international position and our tourism industry? Thinking about positive building, and not just the conservation of historic buildings, how do we ensure that the buildings that we get are better than the one that recently featured in an advert—which bugged me—in the building supplement of The Scotsman? It showed a supposedly baronial building built by one of our biggest contractors. It looked like it was the work of an architectural McGonagall. In fact, McGonagall would probably have done rather better than that shambles of bogus detailing parked on an orthodox suburban home.

Let me remind members of a couple of things that happened quite recently. First, in 1971, one of our greatest tourist attractions was falling to bits, and no one was concerned to conserve it. A young colleague of mine at a university in Scotland sent off a report to Anthony GreenwoodLord Greenwood—who moved a motion in the House of Lords to commemorate Robert Owen. The report pointed out that New Lanark could be pulled down almost any day—it had been sold to a scrap merchant. Greenwood mentioned that in the debate on Owen, and the result was a £250,000 bridging grant, which enabled what is now a massive historical accretion to our tourism industry to be saved.

Two years later, what became, in the past year, the greatest terminal success story of London, the opening of St Pancras station as the international terminal, was saved from the rational decision of the British Government to pull it down by an elderly, eccentric poet. In contradistinction to terminal 5 at London airport, St Pancras has been one of the glorious successes of communication.

We should think not just in terms of legislation and intervention to conserve our environment. We should think in terms of stirring things up. Why are there so many well-produced brochures by historical organisations and bureaucracies? Why do we not have a commercial cultural periodical, existing through conventional sales and advertisements, into which such material could contribute as sources of cash, while helping to sustain a debate on the issues that we are discussing? It was through such debate that St Pancras station, for example, was conserved. It is through that sort of mechanism that I hope we can think positively about things that are probably unthinkable at the moment, such as putting a roof back on Linlithgow palace, which was burned down by drunks in the 1745 rising. Why not train up the essential people such as masons and carpenters whom we need to restore such buildings? If we do not do that, conservation will go by the board.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:13, 23 April 2008

There is no doubt that the conservation and reuse of buildings must rank highly in terms of sustainability. Ensuring that restoration is sympathetic is a crucial role for Historic Scotland. I wish to focus on how local authorities and Historic Scotland can do better, with particular regard to rights for people with disabilities. My comments stem from one of the responses to the consultation.

A Disability Rights Commission report tells us that about 10 million disabled people, and 700,000 disabled children, are covered by disability legislation in Great Britain. It is estimated that almost 1 million disabled adults are likely to be covered by such legislation in Scotland. Scotland has an ageing population, and the probability of having a disability increases with age. It is important that the principles of inclusive design are implemented by those people who shape the built environment, to ensure that the increasing proportion of people who are disabled can participate in mainstream society.

I realise that adapting buildings with cultural or historical significance to meet the needs of disabled people can give rise to conflicting requirements. However, that does not mean that buildings cannot be altered in a sensitive fashion, and it does not prevent the occupiers of buildings from circumventing such barriers through appropriate policies, practices and procedures.

I count myself as a supporter of Historic Scotland but, in celebrating the work of the agency, I ask the minister to accept that, if I seem critical, I mean it constructively. I am concerned that, as was perfectly highlighted by the Disability Rights Commission, little or no guidance originates from Scotland with regard to Historic Scotland, the planning authorities and building control.

In its report, the Disability Rights Commission summarised research that was undertaken by Tom Lister Associates on behalf of the DRC and Historic Scotland on the planning and listed building consent application process concerning accessibility improvements to historic buildings and the role of local authorities.

According to the report, the research was made up of two key parts: a literature review and case studies of three Scottish councils. The literature review identified the key legislation and guidance, as it applies in Scotland, on improving access for disabled people to historic buildings. Each case study was split into two main sections. The first part of each case study reviewed planning application data and the second part contained interviews with council officers, including planners, building standards surveyors and local access panel members. Policy documents from all three Councils were reviewed.

The research found that

"The interviewed planners did not see the promotion of accessibility issues as a key part of their role. The planning legislation gives little or no regard to inclusive design issues. Accessibility is seen as an issue for designers to address and building standards officers to enforce."

The report noted that

"if the introduction of access statements becomes a requirement of planning permission for certain developments this could assist greatly" and it hoped that the revision of the revision of the Scottish building standards in 2007 would be another step forward.

Among the report's recommendations, it said:

"• A joint planning and building standards approach to inclusive design is required to deliver environments which are accessible to everyone. This is even more important when adapting the historic environment, where a balance has to be struck between accessibility and the preservation of the structure or site. Only considering accessibility issues at the building warrant stage may mean the opportunities to integrate the access requirements sensitively into a design are lost.

• Until inclusive design is included in Scottish planning and building standards legislation, Councils will have no duty to insist on inclusive environments. A statutory obligation should be placed on local authorities to consider and recommend access improvements to historic buildings during the planning and listed building consent application process.

• An applicant should be required to submit an access statement to support their planning application. This would assist planners when assessing accessibility issues. This places the onus, from the very start of the project, on designers to take an holistic approach to addressing the needs of disabled people.

• Many individuals and interested parties have a role to play in ensuring that listed buildings become more accessible to disabled people. They include:

• Local authorities • Designers • Access panels • Historic Scotland • The occupier of the listed building/applicant.

There has to be a dialogue between all interested parties. Communication must be formalised to ensure that access issues are given due consideration in planning and listed building consent applications."

There is a legal imperative for service providers to consider whether it is necessary for them to adapt their listed buildings in order to meet their duties under the terms of the disability legislation. Although there is little or no up-to-date Scottish guidance on improving access to historic buildings, a body of relevant good-practice guidance is available from elsewhere in the United Kingdom for designers and managers of listed buildings on how to meet the needs of disabled people in a manner sympathetic to the historic fabric of their buildings. I ask the minister to use her office to deliver for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 4:19, 23 April 2008

I start with a declaration of interest. Like many in the chamber, as a member of a local authority I have been involved in planning issues for a number of years. I am sure that my colleagues in East Ayrshire Council will warmly welcome the opportunity to bid for some of the £8 million from the extended conservation area regeneration scheme announced by the minister.

My views are informed by my experience of dealing with local planning matters and by the views I hear expressed by colleagues, council officers and local communities. Some members have mentioned that on occasion Historic Scotland gets a bad press. It is sometimes portrayed as a barrier to development, especially by prospective developers. It is seen as too slow to respond and lacking in the detailed local knowledge needed to make the decisions that are asked of it. On the other hand, those with a specific interest in the historic environment often portray local authorities as lacking in vision, being too focused on current pressures and lacking the specialist knowledge needed to manage the historic environment. The result of those competing stereotypes is that local authorities and Historic Scotland have been tasked with dual responsibility for scrutinising developments. That is often wasteful of resources, slows the development process down and compounds the lack of clarity about responsibilities.

The stereotypes, however, do not stand up to scrutiny. While preparing my speech, I was struck by the positive side to the relationship between Historic Scotland and East Ayrshire Council. Specifically, Historic Scotland has been supportive of the authority's approach to conservation areas. At the recent Scottish awards for quality in planning, the overall award went to East Ayrshire Council for its maintenance manual, which was produced for the John Finnie street conservation area in Kilmarnock, a project that received support and considerable funding from Historic Scotland. It has also been supportive of our council's action to serve listed buildings repair notices on the former ABC cinema in Kilmarnock. Nevertheless, we might wish to strengthen our powers when, for example, rogue owners strip a building of its internal fabric, which may be of historical and architectural value. I hope that the extended delegated powers that the minister announced might assist us in that regard.

Recent changes in Historic Scotland's approach have been warmly welcomed. It has become more proactive, it is engaging more directly on service delivery and it is consulting and sharing expertise. Such partnership working should be developed and replicated across Scotland. I am pleased that the minister encouraged that approach.

I am also encouraged by the minister's remarks about the planning responsibilities of local authorities. The planning process should be the critical link between local authorities and Historic Scotland. It is within that process, led by local authorities, that the balance is struck between protecting the historic environment and the local community's changing needs and aspirations. The national planning framework and the changing relationship between the Scottish Government and local authorities are important developments. All the partners will have to meet new challenges and must be equipped to respond to them.

I fully support the HEACS recommendations for an audit of local authority capacity and for a rebalancing of the relationship between local authorities and Historic Scotland. Whatever the outcome of the audit, it should not be used as an excuse to halt the momentum for change. A return to the era of a command and control relationship between the Government and local authorities is not an option.

We can see the failure of that approach in cities, towns and villages throughout Scotland over many years. Whole tracts of successful, long-established urban environments were decimated in the name of progress, or modernism, as it might have been called in those days, with no strategic goals and little community involvement or approval for many of the schemes.

We are learning to our cost that, when we make big mistakes in the fabric of our urban areas, we live with the consequences for many years. Communities recognise that, as I am sure do the members in the chamber. We must therefore give our communities a pivotal role in the development of their local environment. The historic environment provides a sense of place for our communities. It distinguishes one community from another in a way that too many recent developments have not done. It can also provide a strong base on which to build new economic development, either by remaining in active use or as a strong component in attracting tourists to view unique parts of our heritage.

Historic Scotland has for many years played a key role in protecting the historic environment, but Scotland needs to change and the way in which we manage our historic environment needs to change with it. Scotland's local authorities should exercise more power locally and therefore be more accountable to their electorate.

We need to set out clearly our national vision and the outcomes that we want to achieve, and we must identify the resources required to deliver them. It should be possible to set new standards while encouraging local flexibility. Challenging times lie ahead. The development of Scotland's cities, towns and villages can successfully embrace the past while looking ahead and planning for an exciting future. I am delighted to support the Government's motion.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 4:24, 23 April 2008

I declare an interest as a member of Historic Scotland.

As others have said, our distinctive environment has been formed by centuries of activity by nature and by man. It has helped to make Scotland the nation it is. Whether we live in cities, towns or the countryside, the history of our nation is all around us. It is not just in our castles and great buildings; it is in the townscapes, the parks and even beneath the sea; it is in the field systems, the roads, the buildings we live in, the places where we worship and the everyday landmarks we pass by.

Our historic environment shapes who we are and contributes to our sense of place. It is also a major driver of our economy, with some 83 per cent of visitors to our country visiting at least one historic site while they are here and with many citing our history as a reason for their visit. And of course, it is an educational tool that has helped to inspire our literature and art for centuries. Our built heritage is therefore important on a whole range of fronts. If it is lost or damaged, it cannot be replaced.

As far back as 1882, it was recognised that to safeguard our built heritage it was necessary to legislate. Over the years, legislation has changed to fit the times, and rightly so. However, care has always been taken to ensure that, as with the planning system more generally, appropriate checks and balances are in place. The minister is quite right to want to see the correct balance between Historic Scotland and local government.

Malcolm Chisholm mentioned the minister's response to suggestions in the HEACS report, and I want to mention one other suggestion. HEACS suggested that the Government should commission an independent survey of local authorities—a survey of their policies, staffing and resource levels for the care of the historic environment. That work is under way. Would it not therefore have been better to await the completion of that work—which I understand is due this year, although I am not aware whether it has yet been made public—before making the kind of suggestions indicated today? I would be grateful if the minister could give us some clarity on the resources to be allocated for that purpose within local authorities—or, indeed, to local authorities.

Perhaps the minister could expand on how she thinks the effectiveness of the pilots will be monitored. Are the single outcome agreements the right place for that? Personally, I do not think so, but the minister might have thought of an alternative.

Rob Gibson laboured to find a way of working in the words "concordat" and "historic", so as not to offend Ted Brocklebank. However, I hope that I can go one better. I seem to remember launching a SHEP not all that long ago—well, it was a wee while ago now—that talked about concordats with Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the National Trust for Scotland and others. The use of the word "concordat" is perhaps even more historical than has been recognised.

Two big issues face Historic Scotland. The first is the challenge of ensuring that, wherever possible, buildings are accessible to all who would like to visit them. Helen Eadie went into issue in some detail, covering all the points thoroughly. The second is to respond to the increasing demand from home owners for green energy through the use of solar panels, wind turbines and the like. Historic Scotland will have to turn its attention to that issue even more seriously in the coming days.

I believe strongly that the reuse of buildings is one of the greenest things that we can do. I am always delighted when buildings, such as Maryhill burgh halls in my constituency, slowly begin to emerge from a moribund state to become a valuable resource within a community. Another example is the award-winning St Georges in the Field church, which now provides homes for some 16 families in my constituency. I used to live in it too—although I am not sure whether that is an interest that I have to declare.

Chris Harvie has left the chamber, but he mentioned the devastation that took place in Glasgow. My constituency suffered, as did many others. However, being able to retain the two buildings that I mentioned, along with two Rennie Mackintosh buildings, has certainly given my constituency of Maryhill a sense of place and its people a sense of belonging.

Historic Scotland needs to work with its partners to ensure that the skills needed for the preservation of historic buildings are maintained. I know that good work has been going on with the Scottish Lime Centre Trust. Those efforts are quite ironic, considering the actions of the Government in relation to modern apprenticeships.

Iain Smith's amendment rightly mentions the involvement of local communities, which Willie Coffey also mentioned. I firmly believe that community planning has a strong role to play in that regard. I would like additional work to be done in that area, but it is important that any such involvement must be informed. I see Historic Scotland in the role of an educator, in terms of interpreting the premises that we have, as Chris Harvie and Rob Gibson mentioned, and in the role of a body that can discuss historic buildings and our environment with the relevant communities.

I pay tribute to Historic Scotland and its staff for the changes that have been made in recent years. I also pay tribute to the work of HEACS and other partners who have worked with Historic Scotland.

We all take this issue seriously and it is of great interest to me to be able to be part of this debate.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 4:31, 23 April 2008

Like Patricia Ferguson and Willie Coffey, I declare an interest as a member of Historic Scotland. As a result of that membership, I have sons who have a healthy fascination with castles and a rather unhealthy determination to never knowingly be underarmed.

This afternoon's debate has been a good one. There have been many thoughtful speeches. Helen Eadie's points about disability and access were pertinent. Most speakers, though not all, have paid eloquent testimony to the importance and breadth of the work that is carried out by Historic Scotland. I associate myself with Ted Brocklebank's remarks about the historic concordat, although his reference to the inadequate budget of Historic Scotland leads me to question why the Tories were so keen to support the Government's budget from such an early stage.

I am pleased that the minister acknowledged the extent to which she is developing work that was put in train by the previous Executive, under Malcolm Chisholm and Patricia Ferguson, and I welcome her announcement on funding and the organisational changes that will, I hope, bear dividends.

Like others, I will talk about examples in my constituency, in which Historic Scotland is an exceptionally important player. The heart of Neolithic Orkney is one of only three world heritage sites in Scotland, and acts as a magnet for the thousands of tourists who come to Orkney each year. Not for nothing has the Lonely Planet described Orkney as

"a glittering centrepiece in Scotland's treasure chest of attractions."

Historic Scotland's stewardship of Skara Brae, Maeshowe and other sites in Orkney is a critical factor in helping the islands maintain and develop the quality of the tourism experience. Of course, Skara Brae, the ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe are also at the heart of Orkney's unrivalled archaeological heritage. They not only attract tourists to the islands, but provide archaeologists from the United Kingdom and across the world with invaluable hands-on experience and a unique opportunity to gain an insight into what life was like 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Malcolm Chisholm might be able to lay claim to having the constituency that contains the most listed buildings, but farmers in my constituency have suggested to me—sometimes with a degree of exasperation—that they can barely stick a spade in the ground anywhere in Orkney without the risk of unearthing some archaeological artefact. Although we feel blessed, such an abundance of archaeological riches is not without its challenges. However, I believe that they can be managed in a way that prevents damaging conflict between farming and archaeological interests, which is something that I have taken up with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment.

That abundant resource has enabled Orkney College to develop a first-class archaeology course framework, including PhDs, which will serve the University of the Highlands and Islands well in the future.

Historic Scotland's work in Orkney is vital and the organisation interacts well with the council. As the minister quite rightly pointed out, excellent joint work is already under way. Crucially, Historic Scotland also interacts well with VisitOrkney, businesses in the local tourism sector and others.

There has been a great deal to commend in recent years. For example, I know that the ranger service that is operated by Historic Scotland is extremely popular and greatly valued in Orkney. That service, which is run by astonishingly dedicated and informed people, has helped to develop understanding and appreciation of what Orkney has to offer, among Orcadians as well as tourists. Such is the appetite for finding out more about Orkney's archaeological heritage that Radio Orkney dedicates a regular programme to the subject, fronted by the irrepressible and hugely impressive Caroline Wickham Jones. An improvement in interpretation and facilities at Skara Brae has opened up new opportunities for people visiting the site. Rob Gibson made some good points about the importance of good interpretation.

Although I do not wish to decry that in any way, we need a sensible debate about capacity and the extent to which Skara Brae and other Historic Scotland sites in Orkney—and, I suspect, elsewhere—can continue to withstand the sort of footfall that there has been in recent years. The figures that Historic Scotland released earlier this week boasted, quite rightly, of impressive increases in the numbers of people visiting the sites, including Skara Brae. However, careful attention needs to be paid to how those numbers are being managed and the steps that are being taken to maintain the quality of the experience for tourists and the fabric of the sites themselves.

My colleague Iain Smith highlighted concerns about the way in which Historic Scotland designates listed buildings and scheduled monuments. That can, as he made clear, have the perverse effect of blighting an area by preventing sensible and sensitive development of the building in question. I know from my dealings with Historic Scotland staff locally of the genuine commitment and efforts that they make to work collaboratively with others in the best interests of the islands. However, whether by design or oversight, Historic Scotland has yet to persuade me that it has fully grasped what is involved in being part of a genuine partnership with local communities. Its statutory role and the undoubted expertise of its staff do on occasions appear to blinker it to the views, and sometimes even the rights, of local stakeholders, although I would not go quite as far as John Farquhar Munro's comments in that respect.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

In my constituency I know of situations in which there has been a complete failure to communicate properly or to engage with local stakeholders. Although I fully accept Historic Scotland's right to take decisions about ticketing, marketing, opening hours et cetera in what it considers to be the best interests of its customers and staff, it cannot ignore the fact that, in somewhere such as Orkney, it is the elephant in the grass. What it does has a real and potentially damaging impact on other businesses. It is incumbent on Historic Scotland to engage in a meaningful sense with local stakeholders and communities, and that requires an explicit and unambiguous statement from senior management.

I am also keen for Historic Scotland to develop its links with the renewable energy sector in Orkney. The circumstances there might be different from elsewhere but, as Patricia Ferguson made clear, they are not unique. It might be unavoidable at times that planning processes become confrontational, but better communication and more proactive engagement by Historic Scotland with, in this case, the Orkney renewable energy forum, would help to take some of the heat out of those issues.

In conclusion, our amendment highlights, as I have made clear—

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:37, 23 April 2008

I am pleased to speak in the debate, which has been very informative. In 2004, during a similar debate, I made a speech that was partially critical of Historic Scotland and its role. Things have improved; there has, as Ted Brocklebank said, been a change of cultural outlook. Earlier this week, like other members, I found it encouraging to read that 2007-08 was a record year for Historic Scotland, with overall visitor numbers increasing by 62,000 compared with the previous year. That included some strong performances in my own region, the Highlands and Islands, including Skara Brae, which has been mentioned; Kisimul castle in the Western Isles; the iconic Urquhart castle on Loch Ness; and Rothesay castle on Bute, which had an amazing increase in visitors of 49 per cent. Well done them!

Given the pressures on the international economy these days, those figures are very positive and a tribute to those who work for Historic Scotland throughout the country. I hope that we can look forward to Dumfries house being another success story in next year's figures. Having been closely involved in last year's campaign to save Dumfries house, I commend Historic Scotland for its involvement in saving what I hope will turn out to be one of the jewels in Scotland's tourism crown. It was a good example of Historic Scotland working closely and effectively with local authorities in the Ayrshire area, as well as with other organisations, for the common good.

We have heard a number of examples of instances in which it has been suggested that Historic Scotland could engage more positively and productively with the owners of particular historic buildings in various states of repair, and more widely with local communities. I associate myself with my colleague Ted Brocklebank's comments, especially concerning Castle Tioram, which featured in my 2004 speech. I will repeat what I said then:

"Can the minister explain why it is wrong for an individual to spend £4.5 million of his own money on the restoration of a 13th century castle to its 1715 condition? Is it wrong that he should want to live there? Is it wrong that he should wish to create a museum for the public? Is it wrong that he should create spin-off benefits and employment for the local community and for local hotels and bed and breakfasts?

Historic Scotland seems to think that that is wrong, despite 70 per cent of the local population around Acharacle signing a petition in support of the renovation and Highland Council giving the go-ahead to the plan, which seems democratic enough to me. The renovator is not asking for money; he seeks permission to spend his own money on the restoration of a piece of Scotland's heritage that without renovation will crumble into the sea. Will the minister look at the case and at the prejudice that is blocking a good idea from becoming a reality for the people of Moidart?"—[Official Report, 11 March 2004; c 6619.]

I asked that question of the then Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport. Today, I ask the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture the same question.

I congratulate John Farquhar Munro on raising the case of Eilean Donan and we should also consider Kinkell castle, which was built in 1592 and was completely sacked after the '45. It was lovingly restored by Gerald Laing, who is one of our foremost sculptors. That is another example of a building that has been renovated to the benefit of Scotland's heritage.

In a number of cases, Historic Scotland and local authorities can work more effectively with the owners of historic properties and local communities. For example, our amendment seeks a clearer approach to dispute resolution. Last week, however, I had the pleasure of hosting the Dalmally historical association's historic visit to the Scottish Parliament, and I heard about a generally positive case of engagement with Historic Scotland.

The Dalmally project involved the restoration of the historic local parish church. The original project was to restore the church windows, which dated from 1811, at a total cost of £26,000. At the time, the church did not have the money to fund the project. The cost ballooned to £250,000 when it was discovered that the internal structures of the church tower needed to be replaced. The original tower had been rendered in porous limestone, but at a later date the render had been covered in non-porous plaster, which caused the structure to become waterlogged, damp and dangerous.

The committee that was set up, which involved members of the church, provided the framework and organisation that were needed to manage the project. In all, 14 bodies have been involved in supporting the project. Some £40,000 was raised by the church and the rest of the money came from the other bodies that were involved. Historic Scotland doubled the funding when the project went over budget. I congratulate Historic Scotland on a wonderful piece of work.

I agree strongly with the statements in "Scotland's Historic Environment" that

"protection of the historic environment is not about preventing change" and that, rather,

"change in this dynamic environment should be managed intelligently and with understanding, to achieve the best outcome for the historic environment and for the people of Scotland."

The Scottish Conservatives support any moves that will streamline the relationship between local authorities, Historic Scotland and stakeholders. We look forward to hearing the Scottish Government's proposals in that regard. As has been recognised, Historic Scotland can be a powerful enabler for voluntary heritage organisations, network bodies and local authorities. It can allow them to deliver successful, locally based, locally supported outcomes for the historic environment.

I support the amendment in my colleague Ted Brocklebank's name.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 4:43, 23 April 2008

I am happy to support Iain Smith's amendment, with its emphasis on effective engagement with local communities in relation to listed buildings. More generally, we should emphasise the importance of engaging with local people on a range of issues to do with the historic environment. For example, Iain Smith talked about adapting buildings to new uses and functions. When we do that, and when we get involved in regeneration initiatives more generally, it is important that we involve local people.

Iain Smith also talked about the importance of buildings as a way of promoting the year of homecoming. The theme of tourism and its relation to the historic environment was also emphasised by other speakers. We all look forward to next year. Historic Scotland is working closely with the National Trust for Scotland on the year of homecoming, as I found at a recent meeting with the NTS.

I cannot give full support to Ted Brocklebank's amendment, so I think that we will abstain from the vote on it. It implies that Historic Scotland should be responsible for funding some, if not all, of the work on relevant buildings, which is a step too far. He spoke about several buildings and an airfield of which I have no knowledge, so I will pass over that.

I have, of course, acquainted myself with Castle Tioram, which was mentioned by John Farquhar Munro and Jamie McGrigor—and perhaps others whom I have forgotten. I do not want to get involved in the specifics of the issue, but I suppose that, as I have looked into it, I have become aware of how exceptional Castle Tioram is, in a way. The local public inquiry into Castle Tioram was the only such inquiry in Scotland that year. In the same year, Historic Scotland approved more than 200 applications for scheduled monument consent. When there are complaints about particular examples, it is important that we maintain that perspective.

John Farquhar Munro called for the abolition of Historic Scotland, which I am in total disagreement with. It is vitally important that we have a national body to oversee the historic environment. Indeed, I had that thought in mind when I included in my amendment the need to maintain

"strong safeguards ... to protect heritage assets".

Whatever new powers may be given to local authorities, we certainly cannot do without Historic Scotland.

Christopher Harvie reminded us, with his typical and helpful historical survey, why we need a body such as Historic Scotland. In that regard, I certainly need look no further than Princes Street on the edge of my constituency and what was done there in the 1960s. I am sure that Historic Scotland would not allow anything similar to happen today.

Christopher Harvie also picked up the theme of public engagement with civic architecture, which is an important new dimension. The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust held a debate in Edinburgh last week during which there was some dispute between the newly appointed director, who said that the public should be involved, and some architects who thought that it should all be left to them. I am happy to side with the newly appointed director and Christopher Harvie on that issue.

James Kelly spoke eloquently of his constituency and the refurbishment of Rutherglen town hall in particular as a model of how to move forward. That was one of many examples given in the debate of Historic Scotland's positive contribution, working in partnership with local authorities and developers.

Helen Eadie emphasised the important theme of disability rights, which I only touched on in my opening speech. It was important that she highlighted that theme in more detail, pointing out the importance of having a guide on access to historic buildings. She also pointed out that Historic Scotland should be sensitive to meeting disability rights requirements when there are applications for changes to historic buildings.

Willie Coffey, too, was positive about Historic Scotland—unlike his colleague from Ayrshire, in a parliamentary question last week. Willie Coffey reminded us of examples of Historic Scotland's positive role in relation to a conservation area in Kilmarnock for which the council won a planning award, with Historic Scotland giving money to support the work. I may have picked him up wrongly, but he also referred to the historic environment audit as a new initiative. I say gently that sometimes the new Government has a slight tendency to speak of things as if they are new; in fact, that audit was initiated several years ago by, I believe, my colleague Patricia Ferguson, to whom I now come.

I paid tribute to Patricia Ferguson's work in my opening speech, and it was helpful that she spoke in the debate today. She emphasised the obvious importance of having checks and balances in relation to local and national work. She also asked questions about resources for local authorities for the pilots and about the monitoring of the pilots, which I hope the minister will answer in her closing speech.

Patricia Ferguson also emphasised another dimension to the green side of the debate, pointing out that reusing buildings is one of the greenest things that we can do. She picked up on Rob Gibson's excitement about the word "concordat"—perhaps that is another example of what I was talking about a moment ago, given that the new Government did not invent concordats. Indeed, I think that the review of Historic Scotland in 2004 talked about concordats and that Patricia Ferguson ensured that they began to happen.

Rob Gibson, like Patricia Ferguson, emphasised the importance of community planning, which is another dimension of the involvement of local people. In my opening speech, I referred to the HEACS report, which said that there is little recognition of the historic environment in community planning. I ask the minister for the second time to address the HEACS recommendation on developing a set of qualitative and quantitative indicators for including the historic environment in community planning.

It would be useful to know the minister's thinking on several other HEACS recommendations, although she will probably not have enough time to talk about them today. For example, HEACS recommended that local authorities and other public bodies and agencies should have a statutory duty of care for the historic environment. That seems a good suggestion to me.

HEACS also recommended the creation of a set of key performance indicators for local authorities for dealing with the historic environment, and it suggested exploring specific grant mechanisms to fund specialist posts in local authorities to support the development of a quality historic environment service. All those recommendations seem to be good, but the minister did not respond to them with absolute approval.

If she has enough time, it would be interesting to hear about the minister's thinking on the HEACS report on the need for legislation. Did she abolish HEACS because she did not like that report? Of course, HEACS supported something in the Scottish National Party's manifesto that has since been ditched.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:51, 23 April 2008

The most sensible thing that I have heard Malcolm Chisholm say today is that I will not have enough time. He is right: in the eight minutes that are available to me, I will not have enough time to respond to everything that has been said.

It is clear from the debate how much our historic environment and our heritage mean to everyone. Examples have been given across the chamber. There is competition. Liam McArthur spoke about the beauty of Orkney, and Malcolm Chisholm spoke about his constituency having the most listed buildings. Rutherglen town hall, Mackintosh buildings in the west of Scotland, the urban and the rural have been mentioned. Christopher Harvie gave a history lesson on the importance of preservation and how we previously nearly lost so much. He talked about the world heritage site at New Lanark, which is a fine example of the fact that our heritage is about more than buildings—it is about our identity, culture and sense of community, which New Lanark has had and continues to have.

Many members mentioned particular Historic Scotland cases. I would like to put things in context. Between 2005 and 2008, Historic Scotland received 798 applications for scheduled monument consent, of which 797 were approved; only one was refused. In the same period, 7,094 applications for listed building consent were made, of which 99.84 per cent were approved; only 11 cases were called in. There will always be a few cases that concern people, and some of those cases were mentioned in the debate.

I do not have enough time to respond to all the concerns that were expressed, but I would like to say where matters lie with Castle Tioram. Ministers refused an application relating to Castle Tioram following a public inquiry. Since then, the owner has stated his intention to submit a fresh proposal. No new proposal has been lodged yet, although I understand that Historic Scotland would be happy to consider one. If members want further information on other cases, I am happy to provide that.

Malcolm Chisholm commented that I previously said in response to the HEACS report that the balance between local authorities and Historic Scotland was about right. It is indeed about right in respect of basic legal duties, but our joint working agreement is about day-to-day administrative working. No extra work is involved in the new arrangement. Historic Scotland is happy to provide support throughout the country to assist authorities, but the aim is to prevent duplication.

Willie Coffey mentioned the audit of local authority resources. I did not see the point in holding up work on moving forward to clear duplication. I am conducting the audit as a pilot rather than undertaking it in all local authorities, as John Farquhar Munro said, because I believe that it is worth seeing how it works initially without going into it wholesale. The idea has been welcomed by local authorities generally and in particular by the three local authorities in which we are piloting it. The work that will be subject to delegation is already being done, so it will have a limited impact on resources. It could even have a positive impact. I am pleased to confirm that, of course, an effective monitoring regime will be an important part of that work.

It is important that I address Helen Eadie's point that there is a feeling that Historic Scotland is not taking disability issues seriously. I assure her that it is. Historic Scotland has been working hard to make its properties as accessible as possible to the widest range of people. Nevertheless, as she recognised, many of the monuments are difficult to access even for the fittest of us, so there is a fine balance to be struck. Historic Scotland has conducted audits of access to its sites and has a programme of work to deliver better access. She will be pleased to hear that Historic Scotland is drafting its equality policy, which builds on the Scottish Government's policy and will cover disability issues. As is required by law, that work will involve stakeholders.

Malcolm Chisholm asked about battlefields. A SHEP on historic battlefields is due to be issued for public consultation on 30 April. We look forward to receiving contributions on that.

Skills training is hugely important. Christopher Harvie talked about the necessity of training up people with specialist skills to ensure that we preserve our built heritage properly. Recently, I was happy to launch the national progression award scheme, which includes Scottish vocational qualifications in building craft skills. Stonemasons are hugely important in the work that needs to be done to preserve our built heritage, and Historic Scotland will have apprentices on the first scheme, which starts on 28 April.

Another issue that was raised concerns the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. I assure members that I am considering carefully the future of RCAHMS. However, I feel strongly that the issue requires more time, as it is absolutely critical that we get it right.

Members will know—some have mentioned this—that, as part of a concordat that is doing the rounds, we are discussing the new single outcome agreements with local authorities. Our discussions with individual councils are at a relatively early stage, so it would not be appropriate for me to say any more about the matter right now. Nevertheless, I welcome the positive way in which local government has engaged with the whole process to date, recognising the opportunity that it offers to reshape completely relations between central Government and local government.

Historic Scotland, as a Government agency, is part of that process, and I am pleased to say that officials from Historic Scotland are working closely with their colleagues across the Scottish Government in that regard.

A big concern that is addressed by Iain Smith's amendment, which I have said that I am happy to accept, boils down to a communication issue—how well Historic Scotland communicates with its partners and the wider public. I am happy to schedule a meeting with Historic Scotland on that point and to take input from parliamentary colleagues on how I should move the discussion forward. That is vital because our heritage affects every one of us, and every one of us has the right to contribute to anything that is going on around our place.