Heritage chief condemned in Commons: Plans drawn up in secrecy to shed 200 historic sites and 480 jobs brought a sharp response yesterday. John Arlidge and Stephen Goodwin report

THE CHAIRMAN of English Heritage, Jocelyn Stevens, was condemned in the Commons yesterday as 'an unsuitable ideological ignoramus' as Labour reacted sharply to the government agency's plan to shed 200 sites and 480 jobs.

Amid the confusion caused by English Heritage's refusal to name any of the sites on its hit-list for disposal, Robin Corbett, Labour's heritage spokesman who was raising the issue on an emergency Commons question, criticised the 'total secrecy' in which the plans had been drawn up.

Some historic sites were 'doomed to neglect . . . They are visited by increasing numbers of people from home and abroad who have a better love of our history than the unsuitable ideological ignoramus who presently chairs English Heritage.'

Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, who approved the proposals last week, took 'particular exception' to the attack on Mr Stevens and praised his work as rector of the Royal College of Arts. Management of sites would not be transferred to local authorities, voluntary bodies or trusts unless English Heritage was satisfied they could be looked after effectively. He told MPs: 'We are not envisaging commercial exploitation or the sale of sites.'

Speaking at the agency's London headquarters yesterday, Mr Stevens, who took over as chairman in April, said shedding responsibility for 'Category C' sites and cutting 480 jobs would allow English Heritage to target its resources more effectively.

He refused to name the sites earmarked for disposal saying it was an 'internal' matter. But these are known to include the white horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire; Europe's largest Stone Age earthwork, Silbury Hill, Wiltshire; and important forts along Hadrian's Wall.

Mr Stevens said he was 'passionate' about heritage but the 'hard facts of recession and the restriction of government funding in the next years' meant that changes 'however unpleasant' were necessary. 'We are stepping back from tasks that we believe would be better done by others so that we can then concentrate where the need is greatest.' Local managers could 'focus on one or two sites more wholeheartedly than a central body can'.

Negotiations with local authorities and trusts might not succeed in all cases. 'We might just dispose of 150.' But, he added, there was 'absolutely no question' of abandoning properties for which new managers could not be found.

There were no plans to dispose of the 160 Category A and B sites - those of outstanding national importance - but he did not rule our further disposals 'if they made sense'.

The proposals, drawn up by senior staff after six months of 'agonising', were approved last week by the Commission, the organisation's ruling committee. Mr Stevens denied the Commission had 'jumped the gun' by approving the plans before referring them to English Heritage's own Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings and Areas advisory committees. The two bodies will consider the proposals next month and refer them back to the Commission for a final decision in the new year. Mr Stevens denied suggestions from John Gorst, Conservative MP for Hendon North, that English Heritage would let sites 'be ignored, forgotten and allowed perhaps to crumble'.

He said: 'If we step back from a property which then falls into disrepair that will reflect on us. We will see that doesn't happen.'

Free entry for English Heritage's 300,000 members would be negotiated if the new managers decided to charge entrance fees. The changes would not affect ownership of the sites, most of which belong to the government or local freeholders under complex 'guardianship' arrangements. Over a quarter of staff will be lost over the next three years.

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture