Proposing the Lloyd’s of London building for listing, restoring an east London thorough-fare in time for the Olympics and ‘finally starting work’ on Stonehenge’s new visitor centre are just some of the priorities in English Heritage’s (EH) ambitious four-year plan, revealed last week. However, EH’s chief executive Simon Thurley pointed out that it was drawn up before he knew he had to make 35% cuts to his organisation.
‘We are working to a £51 million deficit this year,’ he explained to senior heritage figures at Apsley House, London. ‘This is a serious issue, which will leave English Heritage with serious problems.’ Some £18 million will be saved through administrative cuts, which includes 400 redundancies (an increase on the previous estimate of 250), and EH will rely on a ‘more mixed economy’.
Future plans include online documenting of buildings designed for disabled people for November 2012, marking the 100th anniversary of the Ancient Monuments Act in 2013 and a scholarly publication on the Staffordshire Hoard in 2015. Imminent plans are to repair Hastings Pier and St George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth. A comprehensive online catalogue of EH’s nearly 400,000 sites, Portico, has been launched (www.english-heritage.org.uk/portico), which covers everything from post boxes to castles.
Following the boost to the Heritage Lottery Fund (Town & Country, February 23), EH will re-focus grant activities on expert advice, emergency repairs, privately owned heritage at risk, research and technical advice. It promises to tackle heritage crime, help owners of ‘Green’ properties and focus on marine heritage.
Baroness Andrews, EH chair-man, added: ‘Despite our best efforts, the state of the nation’s heritage is fragile, and we can-not do everything. Nor should we. As public funding diminishes, it is imperative that we concentrate on what only we can do. Ours is a national res-ponsibility to create and apply national standards.’ However, critics remain concerned that the cuts are forcing EH to focus resources on its own properties.
The Minister for Tourism and Heritage, John Penrose, promised that planning under the Localism Bill will not be to the detriment of heritage. ‘The statu-tary protection will be main-tained,’ he stated. ‘PPS5 was successful and is a baby that must not be thrown out with the bathwater. The priority [for EH] is to maintain a listing system which is fit for purpose; a small but significant proportion of properties stay on the at-risk list and this is where improvements need to be made.’ Mr Penrose also called on heritage bodies to encourage philanthropic giving, ‘which we are not as good at as the Arts’.
However, Country Life’s John Goodall observes: ‘The heritage sector works hard to secure philanthropic gifts already. How can the Government expect private donors to give money to the heritage sector when it has run up such a vast conservation deficit for buildings in State care? Even more so, as the VAT arrangements on repairs effectively tax all repair work at a swinge-ing 20%.’ The Minister said no change was in prospect: ‘There isn’t any money,’ he explained.