Letter: English Heritage's opinions reflect the variety of listed buildings

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The Independent Online
Sir: I sympathise with Edmund Soane and I would only take issue with him for uniquely singling out English Heritage for criticism. In this country, we have a culture of preservation by designation, practised not only by English Heritage but also by English Nature, the Countryside Commission and nearly all local and county authorities to mention only some. Whatever the process of designation, there is frequently no consultation, no effective right of appeal (at any reasonable cost) to an independent third party, and no compensation for the added costs imposed on the property owner.

It should be recognised that the conservation skills of many employed in the role of 'protector' are squandered by a system that turns them into bureaucrats charged with maintaining a pre-ordained official line. They frequently move posts, which destroys continuity - and having been moved, they are too often replaced by someone who disagrees with the opinions and interpretation of his predecessor. Where there is formal consultation, delays are frequently excessive with conflicts between different agencies' objectives.

All this creates muddle and confusion for the property owner, greatly increases his costs and adds inordinate delay to some mundane activities. Those who designate frequently promise grant aid; but little grant is generally obtainable on terms that make economic sense.

Conservation management should do better than this. The present framework encourages disregard for the law, while the uncertainties militate against good forward management.

It is time for detailed scrutiny of what we are designating and why, and whether it is an acceptable socio-economic policy that private owners of property should be expected to bear extra administrative and other costs in this way. If designation were automatically linked to grant entitlement to cover the extra cost, with an effective independent avenue for settling disputes, the 'protector' agencies would quickly focus on those conservation factors that are strictly necessary.

Yours faithfully,


Shipley, West Sussex