On 15th January, leading national heritage agencies (Heritage Link, English Heritage, National Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Historic Houses Association) released a report, Valuing Our Heritage, which challenges the Government to respond to the financial pressures facing Britain's heritage.
Noting that England spends less per head on heritage than Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands or Germany and that £1 billion needs to be spent on outstanding repairs, the report calls for wide-ranging action.
- Funding to deliver the Heritage Protection Review, including developing skills, engaging with the public, updating information on historic assets and achieving consistent standards for Historic Environment Records (£5m a year).
- Greater support for frontline restoration and preventative maintenance for listed Places of Worship (£9m a year)
- The restoration of English Heritage grant aid to 1997 levels, the introduction of a fiscal incentive for maintenance and an increase in the National Heritage Memorial Fund as funder of last resort (total £23m a year).
- Investing in increased opportunities for people to enjoy, learn about and get involved in the historic environment and support educational initiatives in heritage venues.
The report goes on to detail the value that the heritage sector contributes to the national economy and compares its funding performance, a net decline in real terms, with that of other sectors - Sport England's support has increased by 98% and the Arts Council by 53%.
The English Historic Towns Forum endorses wholly the findings and recommendations of the report and makes the following observations from the perspective of its members.
- Historic cities and towns in England are engines for the country's economy. People choose to set up businesses, work, live, learn and play in them because they offer quality environments and their heritage is at the root of this quality.
- While individual buildings are important in attracting visitors and tourism spend, it is principally the country's historic cities and towns that visitors come to see.
- The effective management of heritage resources provides one of the most sustainable models of development. This has been demonstrated emphatically by cities, like Vienna, which have made a difference to their carbon footprint through a focused regime of heritage management.
- In an age of more affordable travel, many previously under-resourced mainland European cities have radically improved their economic performance by regenerating their heritage offer with the assistance of national and EU funding to benefit from this new opportunity. Although the same opportunities exist for English cities, there is little evidence that they have been exploited to anything like the same degree.
- Equally, a significant proportion of the building stock in historic towns and cities is accounted for by heritage properties. However, funding shortages and a lack of incentive for owners to utilise these resources to the full often mean that less sustainable options for accommodating the needs of housing and business leave historic quarters often under used and derelict.
The EHTF calls upon the Government to recognise the important role currently played by heritage but, more significantly, to grasp the opportunity offered by comprehensive and integrated heritage led regeneration in our towns and cities to provide a sustainable boost for local economies and to underpin these economic engines of the country.
Moreover, the Government must not under estimate the value placed upon heritage by local people. In Norwich, for instance, where a much more integrated and proactive approach has been taken to Heritage Open Days over the last two years, participation rates over the four-day event rose from 5,000 visits in 2004 to 100,000+ visits in 2005-06, volunteering rose from 30 to 675, while positive economic impacts of 6-25% were recorded.