– in the Scottish Parliament on 1st March 2023.
1. To ask the Scottish Government when the nationwide programme of inspection to assess the condition of, and the impact of climate change on, some of Scotland’s most significant heritage sites, being undertaken by Historic Environment Scotland, is expected to be completed. (S6O-01932)
The inspection programme continues to progress well. Tactile inspections have been carried out at 30 sites across Scotland since last May. Historic Environment Scotland has been able to reopen a number of sites in Claire Baker’s region, including Doune castle, Burleigh castle, and Inchcolm abbey. There is full or partial access to more than 80 per cent of the properties in care, and Historic Environment Scotland continues to assess the potential to reopen sites as soon as it is safe to do so. I will continue to urge it to do so as quickly as possible.
Although the safety of sites is paramount, it is unfortunate that progress is not being made more quickly. The inspection programme has now moved on to level 2 sites, which include Aberdour castle, in my region. I was pleased to visit it recently, and I met HES when I was there.
In 2019, the castle had more than 20,000 visitors, and I know that the minister recognises the impact of that on local visitors. Aberdour has much to offer, but part of its attraction, particularly for international visitors, is the castle. Has the Government made any assessment of what additional support towns and villages such as Aberdour will need during such prolonged periods of closure?
I can attest to my family’s relationship with Aberdour—my children love Aberdour beach.
The Aberdour castle site is partially open. The walled gardens and driveway were made accessible last October, the inspection was completed in November and work is going on to reopen the internal areas, with some restrictions—the date for that is yet to be confirmed.
I am happy to either meet Claire Baker or ensure that HES can meet her, because she is right to say that such sites are important anchors for local communities—that is well known—and I want to make sure that she is aware of the progress that has been made.
Last week, Historic Environment Scotland’s chief executive informed a packed meeting that was organised by Linlithgow Civic Trust that Linlithgow palace is to partially reopen in May, following necessary works, which is welcome news. However, bearing in mind the damage to the north range of Linlithgow palace and, indeed, the many other properties that still face significant and continuing damage from the elements, will the minister consider a new and comprehensive ruins management strategy to ensure that our much-loved and valued ruined heritage can be managed into the future?
I am pleased that Fiona Hyslop was able to have such a successful meeting with the local community and that HES was able to give good news. Like her, I welcome the partial reopening of Linlithgow palace in May and the work that is being undertaken by HES to inspect and repair other properties in care.
The properties in care include some of Scotland’s most iconic and culturally significant assets, including Linlithgow palace, and we recently consulted more broadly on a refreshed strategy for Scotland’s historic environment, which seeks to prioritise activity such as that suggested by Fiona Hyslop, which supports economic recovery and renewal. That strategy focuses on creating a more resilient and sustainable historic environment and helps to communicate the contribution that the historic environment makes to our nation.
The core conservation costs for properties in care in 2021-22 were £7.7 million. That represents a 14 per cent reduction from 2017-18. The decline in the provision has been a consistent trend over the past five years. Given the impact of closed heritage sites on tourism and the local economy, can the minister tell me what discussions he has had with HES to ensure that funding for conservation and maintenance is maintained, if not increased, so that no more sites close and those that are closed reopen as quickly as possible?
Obviously, Historic Environment Scotland has its own decisions to make, but I have regular meetings with HES’s representatives about its strategic priorities, as I have outlined to previous questioners. The Scottish Government has substantially increased resource to Historic Environment Scotland in recognition of not just the impact of the pandemic on HES’s commercial income but the need to ensure that our properties in care are maintained. Over 2022-23, we will support Historic Environment Scotland with £60.6 million to maintain Scotland’s heritage and historic environment, which is an 80 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels of funding. HES is working hard to reopen our heritage sites as soon as it is safe to do so, and we continue to support that endeavour.