Radical plan to break up English Heritage ‘rushed’ and ‘not viable’

 

Serious questions have been raised over the Government’s plans to split English Heritage in two, after a lengthy consultation provoked a flood of angry responses.

Close to 600 replies were received in response to the radical plan, which would see English Heritage become an independent charity responsible solely for the management of 440 historical sites including Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall and Tintagel Castle. The rest of the organisation’s operations would remain with the Government and be renamed Historic England.

An early analysis of the responses, seen by The Independent, shows that the Government is facing a long string of fears, queries, requests and demands from organisations ranging from heritage bodies to developers and local authorities.

The proposal in its current form “does not give confidence”, one respondent said. Another criticised the plans as “hurriedly developed” and said that many of the financial assumptions were “unconvincing”. Another demanded a “more imaginative vision”. The Council for British Archaeology said the consultation had been “rushed”, leading to a document “that has errors and does not provide the level of detail we would have expected to enable us to reach an informed decision”. The three-page document that outlines the early findings of the consultation acknowledges a series of questions over the finances supporting the scheme and what would happen to properties that were not financially viable and on the verge of collapse.

Some demanded whether the new-look English Heritage could really achieve the proposed aim of becoming self-sufficient and called for clarity on what would happen if it fails to do so. While the Government has not yet published the responses, many organisations have now chosen to publish theirs online.

The lack of clarity over future funding “casts a considerable shadow over the viability” of the new body, the Institute for Archaeologists said in its response. The chief executive, Peter Hinton, wrote that the Government had failed to provide enough detail “to give confidence that the charity can become self-funding” in the eight-year period envisioned.

He added that while there may be a growth in membership, “the absence of any contingency planning in the vision is a real cause for concern”.

The Government is to give £80m to English Heritage to allow it to carry out major refurbishment across its properties, but some respondents, including the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, do not believe that this sum is enough. Several responses warned that the consultation provided no clarity should Britain be hit with another crisis, such as the foot-and-mouth disease or flooding.

The concerns have prompted Helen Goodman, the shadow Culture Minister, to call for the Government to go “back to the drawing board”. Ms Goodman said: “People have several concerns. One is whether Historic England, the planning organisation, will be adequately resourced. If not, it spells disaster for the built environment over the long term; an erosion of building protection. The Government also seems to have paid no attention to what happens if there’s a disaster somewhere. That could happen at any moment and that’s irresponsible.”

English Heritage chief executive, Simon Thurley, has said the move is “the only way forward” and the majority of respondents supported the split in principle.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was compiling a detailed response to the consultation and would publish its findings by the summer.

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