Future of English Heritage

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 2nd April 2014.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:00 pm, 2nd April 2014

The concern is whether Historic England will have sufficient resources to look after the 99.95% of scheduled and listed buildings. That is extremely difficult, given the local authority cuts. Local authorities have been forced to shed 25% of their specialist heritage staff. We would therefore like to hear a clear statement from the Minister on whether English Heritage intends to provide advice on a fee-paying basis to some stakeholders. Losses as a result of the cuts could be the worst risk, because it could be a mediaeval dovecote in one place, a Tudor wall somewhere else and a Georgian garden in another place—none big enough to arouse national campaigns, but all bringing a loss to local heritage.

No doubt the Minister will tell us about the Farrell review of architecture and the built environment. There are a number of good ideas in that report, but I was not immediately attracted to the proposals on cultural heritage. Is not the proposal to make listing “less academic” code for dumbing down? The Minister is looking puzzled. He wrote the foreword to the report; he obviously has not read it. Seeking to elide the views of the Design Council with those of English Heritage is surely a way of suppressing the views of English Heritage. The report says:

“The value of our building stock is no longer just historical or architectural”.

That is very worrying. Had we had listing by public opinion polls, St Pancras railway station would have been demolished 50 years ago. It was only the sustained campaign by Sir John Betjeman that made it popular in the public mind.

The point is that architecture goes in and out of fashion. That applies not just to modern architecture, but to views of earlier architecture. How boring it would be if London consisted only of Georgian terraces or only of the mediaeval and the modern. A place is complex and multi-layered, built over time by many generations, and all of those things should be reflected in the built environment.