English Heritage splits over plan for disposals

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A SERIOUS split has developed within English Heritage over its plans to dispose of half its ancient monuments.

The Commission of English Heritage, its ruling group, and the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee, one of its statutory bodies, are at loggerheads over the disposal plans disclosed this week by Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage.

The committee of 12 leading archaeologists took the unprecedented step at its meeting yesterday of issuing a public statement highly critical of the parent body. The commission approved the plans a week ago.

The quango's chief executive, Jennifer Page, last night issued a statement saying 'there is no civil war in English Heritage'. But the committee is accusing it of launching a policy of management of a large proportion of the nation's guardianship monuments 'that appears to contradict the commission's primary statutory duty . . . 'to secure the preservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England'. The committee has sought an early meeting with the commission to give its views on these far- reaching proposals, upon which it has not yet been consulted.'

Professor Michael Fulford of Reading University, a member of the advisory committee, said the statement had been issued 'to express the committee's extreme displeasure with the plans and the way they have been compiled without consultation'.

'We are concerned that the current high standards of care for our ancient monuments will not continue in the long term if these plans go ahead. We do not object to helping to prioritise English Heritage's sites, but we do not approve of the proposed scale of the site disposals,' he said.

English Heritage is proposing to dispose of 200 of its 350 monuments accessible to the public. These include the White Horse at Uffington; Silvery Hill, Wiltshire; the Roman City walls at St Albans; prehistoric stone circles at Arbor Low in Derbyshire, Rollright in Oxfordshire and Stanton Drew in Avon; and several important forts along Hadrian's Wall. Local authorities, charities and trusts are expected to take over the sites.

Ms Page said last night: 'Details of the categories into which sites will fall are for debate and individual cases will go forward to the committee for consideration.'

The Council for British Archaeology said yesterday that the plans could result in duplication and long-term uncertainty over conservation standards.