Future of English Heritage

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:48 pm on 2nd April 2014.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner 2:48 pm, 2nd April 2014

Yes, to all Members.

From the Church of England’s perspective, I will emphasise three points raised in the consultation on the proposed split of English Heritage. As currently constituted, English Heritage plays an important role in progressing and sharing new discoveries in building conservation.

The fact that the research specialists have their own estate on which to conduct trials and see problems at first hand means that they have a wide and deep knowledge of complex conservation issues. There is a risk that the split will isolate those conservation specialists from the estate, and thus weaken the progress of their research.

As Members will appreciate, churches are among the most complex historical buildings. The Church of England has within its stewardship 16,000 churches, 12,500 of which are either grade I or grade II listed. If everyone thinks of their local parish church, work will often have been done over many centuries, so we obviously have a considerable interest. Several major churches are currently involved in the nanolime trial research project for stonework conservation. Such research is valued by many across the heritage sector, and it would be an enormous pity if that work were either weakened or lost.

Secondly, English Heritage’s current role as a heritage advocate to Government is invaluable. As a whole, I suspect that the Church of England is big enough to defend and promote itself, but heritage is clearly not our primary purpose. The Church of England’s primary purpose is the care of souls, and English Heritage’s role in taking up the banner for the contribution of the heritage sector is key. The loss of English Heritage’s cathedrals team in 2009 demonstrates what happens when such advocacy is lost. For the past five years, until the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s welcome recent Budget announcement of £20 million to help with the maintenance and repair of cathedrals, there simply was no national funding for pure building repairs to cathedrals, which led to an £87 million shortfall that now has to be addressed collectively. Without English Heritage to speak up for cathedral repairs, cathedrals had to fight long and hard to be recognised as the key heritage assets that they are. With the statutory side of the new English Heritage being potentially vulnerable to ongoing and understandable reductions in Government funding, the Church of England needs to warn now that it would be disastrous if that loss of advocacy were to spread across the heritage sector.

Thirdly, the Church of England has its own action plan under the national heritage protection plan and has found the NHPP to be a useful mechanism for marshalling projects and prioritising work. We feel strongly that the NHPP should continue to form the business plan for heritage and should be held and managed by the statutory side of English Heritage. That is linked to my point about advocacy, as it is incredibly valuable for heritage organisations to be able to unite under the NHPP banner and for the Government to see that, in that way, English Heritage speaks for the sector as a whole. A strong English Heritage means a strong heritage sector that contributes to growth, renewal and community.

In addition to those three specific points, which I emphasise, the consultation document asked a number of specific questions, and it may help the House if I share the Church of England’s response to a small number of those questions. Although we agree strongly with the proposed benefits of the new model for the national heritage collection, we are concerned that the new charity may have an adverse impact on the funding available to churches, as the charity is likely to make strong demands on the Heritage Lottery Fund. The number of visitors to cathedrals, not counting other churches, is some 11 million people a year, which is equivalent to current visitor levels to English Heritage properties. We ask that the importance of ecclesiastical heritage not in the care of English Heritage be given due weight in funding decisions.