It is helpful that the Minister is giving such strong reassurance this afternoon, but more reassurance is important given the drastic nature of the proposed changes to English Heritage. Particularly in its role as a statutory consultee in planning, English Heritage is vital. I will give two examples from my constituency.
The work of English Heritage was essential in getting a public inquiry into a development on the riverside on a hugely sensitive site. It supported the call-in, and we then had the public inquiry, ending up with a much better development on the site because of the intervention of English Heritage, which is doing much the same over the proposed development of the County hospital site. Where such advice is ignored, we can end up with poor developments, which we have occasionally had in Durham over the past couple of years. I will take the Minister at his word, however, and if he says that that role in planning advice and as a statutory consultee and adviser will continue, along with adequate funding so that it can be effective, that is a good thing.
The Minister will have to address some of the issues raised by the Heritage Alliance, which points out that the funding settlement is assured only until 2016, and that the profile and regulatory nature of the smaller, rump body might weaken its call on central Government support, but that heritage is essential to the national economy because of tourism and the construction, creative and cultural industries. The alliance wants funding to be available in the longer term and wants more detailed public consultation on the changes. If the Minister does not think we need more detailed consultation, perhaps he will explain why.
It is important that we should continue to conserve England’s historic environment and the special areas of the country that have beautiful heritage and a unique built environment in need of special protection.