Heritage Action Zones — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:22 pm, 19th December 2018

We see that in many cases. Heritage buildings are an attraction to all types of business, including high-tech ones. The importance of our heritage was fully recognised in “The Culture White Paper”, published by my Department in 2016. It was the first White Paper on culture to be published by any Government since 1965. It made commitments to several new schemes, including Historic England’s heritage action zones, which several Members have spoken about today. As colleagues know, the zones are a flagship scheme to target areas of untapped potential, bringing historic places back to life to attract residents, tourists, businesses and investors, and to create economic growth in villages, towns and cities across England.

The scheme, like many of the schemes in the White Paper, champions a joined-up approach whereby Historic England works in partnership alongside local partners such as local authorities and local businesses. A first round of 10 heritage action zones was announced in March 2017. They included Sunderland, Nottingham, Hull and Coventry—the latter two were of course selected as the UK city of culture for 2017 and 2021 respectively—and Walworth in London, which was one of my first visits when I took my present ministerial post in January. I also enjoyed a visit to Coventry this year.

A further eight heritage action zones were announced as part of my Department’s heritage statement, which was published this time last year. The second round included Stoke-on-Trent, where, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South has his constituency. I congratulate him again: I understand that he is the youngest MP of his intake—I am sometimes mistakenly seen in the same way. [Laughter.] I do not know why everyone is laughing.

My hon. Friend is a heritage star, who cares very much about heritage and his constituency, which is reflected in the fact that he secured the debate, and in the speech he made. I understand that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is due to refurbish Gladstone Pottery Museum as part of the heritage action zone. That will of course help to attract further visitors. I recommend that if it has not already done so, the pottery museum should contact Arts Council England about eligibility for the museum development grant programme, which provides a network of advice and support for all accredited museums. There could be some suggestions for increasing visitor numbers, and for financial sustainability.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South mentioned VisitEngland and VisitBritain. VisitEngland’s role is primarily about developing tourism products, as in the successful £40-million Discover England fund. That £40 million is put into a fund by the Government to encourage tourism outside the London area. Domestic marketing is not part of its current remit, although I am considering that at the moment. Tourism to the area is not one of the primary focuses of the heritage action zone initiative. It is a secondary focus; we obviously want tourists to visit. When the projects within heritage action zones start to become more public facing, Historic England will work with local and national organisations including VisitEngland to encourage tourism. We very much want that. Tourism is doing well in this country and numbers are healthy and increasing, but we always want more. Historic England is monitoring the outputs of the heritage action zone programme against a set of programme indicators and surveys.

Historic England has completed a full year of data collection for the first 10 heritage action zones. I believe that monitoring data for round 2, which includes Stoke, is currently being collected by Historic England, so it is still a bit early to evaluate the impact on visitor numbers in those areas. I applaud the work of my hon. Friend in supporting the heritage action zone in his area, and the work he has done to support that growing industry in his constituency.

Officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and from my Department are currently working with the ceramics sector to explore how they can support the industry. I was delighted that last month the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced the Government’s intention to deliver a sector deal with the tourism industry. We have entered into negotiations with the industry about what precisely that will look like, and we have asked it to come to us soon with a strong offer to help increase skills, accessibility and data sharing. When that sector deal is concluded, I am convinced that the tourism industry across the country will benefit. Potential rail improvements to aid tourism are a matter for Network Rail rather than my Department, but we work closely with the Rail Delivery Group—I think I met it earlier in the year—and I will ask my officials to discuss the matter further.

Historic England welcomes the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission as an addition to the range of initiatives taken in recent years to improve the quality of design across England—something I think we all want. That will help to raise awareness of the importance of design in regeneration, and support a sense of community and place. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has done a lot and encouraged a great deal in that area, and the commission is a very good thing.

I was pleased this year when the impact of heritage-led regeneration through the heritage action zones scheme was recognised in the Grimsby town deal. Indeed, the Greater Grimsby heritage action zone was announced as part of that town deal, highlighting the many links between heritage and this Government’s industrial strategy. I am sure there is more to be done in other areas.

Hon. Members can imagine my delight when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget £55 million of funding for my Department for heritage high streets. The Government are working in many ways, and in many different shapes and forms, to help the high street and deal with the issues raised by internet shopping. That £55 million for heritage high streets was very positive and, as hon. Members will know, part of a wider £675-million future high streets fund—a very large sum. Some £40 million of that fund will provide a most welcome boost to Historic England, an arm’s length body, to run a purely high streets focused heritage action zone programme, beginning in 2019. I see that as a major success of which I am very proud, and that Budget commitment from Her Majesty’s Treasury shows just how much the Government recognise the importance of the country’s heritage. It is a major investment.

Since 1998, the Heritage Lottery Fund has invested significant amounts of national lottery funding in townscapes. I encourage everyone to participate in the national lottery because those good causes, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, are a positive thing. Since 1998, a minimum of around £300 million has gone mainly, but not exclusively, to townscape heritage and townscape initiative programmes. HLF decisions are taken at arm’s length from Government. A couple of colleagues mentioned my input and offered me very generous invitations to visit various parts of the country, but such decisions are taken at arm’s length from Government—perhaps that is just as well when my hon. Friends ask me these things—and we are, quite rightly, not involved in the grant-making process, which is done independently.

The heritage action zone scheme aims to bring in funding from across the sector, and others, for local benefit both economically and—just as importantly from my perspective—for the historic environment. A heritage action zone can apply for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, although not for a part of a project that is already being funded as part of the heritage action zone initiative. Therefore, Historic England could fund one part of a project, and the Heritage Lottery Fund another. There is nothing to stop that happening. Indeed, round 1 heritage action zones are sharing Historic England funding of £6 million, and benefiting from a further £18 million secured in match funding. About £1 of investment from Historic England generates further investment from the public and private sectors of £3.10—more than triple—so it is worth doing.

We must have regard to the public purse and—unlike previous Governments—to spending within our means in all the things we do. However, we must certainly have a very special regard for heritage, and I thank again all hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate. I would be delighted to visit the Stoke-on-Trent heritage action zone, and indeed Henley and Congleton if the diary allows. My Department is looking at some possible dates next year for either the Secretary of State or me to visit Stoke-on-Trent.