HUNDREDS of historic monuments are at risk because English Heritage, under its new chairman, Jocelyn Stevens, is poorly managed, a select committee of MPs warned yesterday.
It said that the government agency did not have a firm programme for clearing the backlog of essential maintenance work, up to 2,400 listed buildings could be endangered and Mr Stevens had failed to consult heritage bodies about plans to hive off historic sites to local managers.
The Public Accounts Committee, which examines how taxpayers' money is spent, also described conditions at Stonehenge - English Heritage's most visited site - as 'a national disgrace'.
English Heritage said yesterday that the committee's report, based on evidence submitted last November, was 'retrospective'.
Through its Forward Strategy, launched last October, it had begun to address the problems identified, many of which Mr Stevens had inherited from the former administration, Nicky O'Reilly, a spokeswoman for the chairman, said.
A pounds 34m 'prioritised working programme' to clear the most important maintenance work by 1997 was launched last December and recent countrywide 'buildings at risk' surveys had helped to draw attention to listed buildings under threat.
English Heritage 'fully endorsed' criticisms of Stonehenge, Mrs O'Reilly said. Last year the agency and the National Trust put forward a pounds 15m project to 'recreate a proper setting' for the prehistoric monument by closing the A344 near by and building a concealed visitors' centre and car park.
The report attacked the management style of English Heritage under Mr Stevens, who took over a year ago. The agency had failed to consult local authorities before disclosing plans to hive off 200 of its 400 historic sites to local bodies. Management should not be transferred to the 'community' without a guarantee of 'sufficient funds for future care and preservation'.
Mrs O'Reilly insisted: 'We have always said that the Forward Strategy proposals were an outline and that we would consult fully on all aspects.' MPs added that the Department of National Heritage should 'establish a firm action plan and timetable' to compile statutory lists and schedules to protect monuments.
The lists had become 'inadequate and out of date', with entries recorded in nearly 2,000 spiral-bound volumes.
Committee of Public Accounts, 29th Report, Protecting and Managing England's Heritage Property, HoC 252 HMSO pounds 11.
Poor deal for tourists, page 3
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