[Sandra Osborne in the Chair]
It is a pleasure, Mrs Osborne, to serve under your chairmanship. I am pleased to have secured this debate. English Heritage—or, to give it its correct title, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission—is a national institution that has guardianship of some of our most treasured monuments, buildings and landscapes. The two most famous that spring to mind are Stonehenge and Hadrian’s wall, but it manages a great variety of sites throughout the country, as well as fulfils important duties in the planning and protection of our national heritage.
Hon. Members will know that the Government have consulted on a new model for English Heritage, which would see a new charity established to take over the conservation and management of the national heritage collection, while other responsibilities would remain with a smaller, renamed non-departmental body. The proposals have been welcomed in some quarters, and greeted with concern in others. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working on its response to the consultation, and I hope today will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions, to voice any concerns or hopes for the future of English Heritage, and to contribute to the thinking of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey).
The duties of English Heritage are set out in statute in the National Heritage Act 1983. They are to secure the preservation of historic sites and monuments, to promote the preservation and enhancement of conservation areas, and to promote the public’s enjoyment of ancient monuments and buildings. I am lucky to live near wonderful Durham university, which has a fabulous archaeology department where, some time ago, I studied mediaeval archaeology for a couple of years and looked in detail at the work of Sir Charles Peers who was, as colleagues may know, responsible for acquiring many of the sites for what was then the Ministry of Works. He was responsible and accountable, but was not always viewed in the best light by archaeologists because he swept away much of the archaeology from many sites and replaced it with immaculate lawns. That is what we are left with today.
The commission recognises that it is probably best known for its work in looking after the national heritage collection. The collection spans more than 400 historical sites and monuments that are open to the public, as well as more than 500,000 artefacts and 12 million photographs in its public archives. The sites range from Roman ruins to a 1960s nuclear bunker, and I am reliably informed that the collection includes both Charles Darwin’s diaries and the Duke of Wellington’s boots, although I have not seen them. It hosts 11 million visitors every year, as well as 445,000 free educational visits.
However, English Heritage’s work is far wider than just the collection. It has just under 75,000 members, who contribute to self-generated revenue, and gives out £24 million in grants every year for conservation projects. In addition, it advises the Government on heritage protection, designates places of significance to be listed for statutory protection, and advises owners, developers and local authorities on development decisions. In total, the commission advises on more than 17,000 planning applications every year, and it would be helpful if the Minister explained his assessment of developer-funded archaeology in this context and advice to local authorities on conservation areas. We have some conservation areas in my constituency, and any tampering with decision making on them will garner a huge amount of interest when it comes to residents’ attention.
Will the Minister also explain how the quality of preservation will be guaranteed in future? English Heritage is the custodian of last resort for heritage sites that are at risk and not otherwise being cared for. It would be a tragedy if the quality of curation that English Heritage has managed to achieve were diminished. English Heritage is currently a non-departmental public body. Its work is funded mainly by a departmental grant. Last year, its funding streams included grant in aid of £103 million, and just under £57 million was self-generated through membership, entry fees, retail and catering.
The reason for this debate is that the future funding and structure of English Heritage is uncertain. In December 2013, the Government published a consultation outlining a new model for the organisation, and closed it in early February. The model proposed would see English Heritage split into two separate bodies. One part would retain the name “English Heritage” but would become a charitable enterprise and would take on the management of sites in the national heritage collection. The charity would be fully responsible for the conservation and public use of sites, and would manage the collection for eight years.
The Government’s intention is to give the charity an £80 million one-off investment to tackle a significant backlog of conservation defects. That backlog has arisen, even with the grant-in-aid funding and the current arrangements, and there is concern that such a backlog could occur again. We need to know what the Government would do in that circumstance.
I declare an interest as a member of the all-party group on archaeology, which I helped to set up, and as a former student of Mesopotamian archaeology, which is slightly earlier than the mediaeval architecture that the hon. Lady studied. Does she share my concern that in some of the projections in the proposals, there seems to be no allowance for the fact that there will be a lot of disruption during the catch-up repairs that many properties will need, requiring many of them to close or part-close for a long time, which will seriously impact on the revenue they bring in in the next few years?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As a student of mediaeval archaeology, I believe it could be a fabulous opportunity to engage more people in our historic sites and to allow them to take part in or to witness the improvements, and to see the defects being put right. For me, there is nothing better than going into a building that is in a state of disrepair, where façades have been removed and rafters are exposed. That is a great opportunity, and I would like to see visitors welcomed. The revenue they would bring should be included in the process. English Heritage has become quite good at that over the years.
The money that English Heritage will spend on defects will be matched by another £83 million raised by the organisation from third-party donations. It is hoped that that will give a boost to the charity, which will be expected to become self-sufficient. Over the eight years, the Government plan to withdraw the grant in aid, and expect the charity to be self-financing by 2022. The remainder of the commission’s duties will continue to be performed by a non-departmental public body, to be called Historic England. Those duties will include advisory and planning roles, and will continue to be funded by grant in aid.
English Heritage does not mind the reforms in principle, particularly the ability to raise revenue through philanthropic and commercial opportunities. As would be expected, it welcomes the offer of the up-front £80 million to tackle the significant backlog of conservation work needed for the collection. Concerns have been expressed about the practical realities of the new model, and the risks that might arise in future. The most significant concerns, as the Minister will know, centre on the financial model, and whether a charitable English Heritage can realistically achieve self-sufficiency in the time frame allowed and retain it for the long term.
There is a basic concern about the nature of the collection. English Heritage’s collection is not the same as the carefully selected portfolio of the National Trust, which can turn down sites or choose to take on only new properties that come with an endowment to fund their upkeep. English Heritage has sites that have been gathered over decades—or inherited by the nation—because of their historical significance, and rarely because of their commercial potential. Many have been taken on by English Heritage because it is the owner of last resort.
Some 250 English Heritage sites—more than half the collection—are free at the moment, so the public can gain access to them without having to pay. We are talking about ruined abbeys and bits of old Roman wall that families visit as part of a walk through the countryside. The place that springs to my mind is Egglestone abbey, close to where I live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). It is one of the most beautiful places in the north. It is a ruined abbey set perfectly in the landscape. It benefits from not having commercial activity or gates and tea shops and other buildings around it. The ruins have been there for centuries, and it would be a real shame if visitors were charged to visit the site in future.
The Society of Antiquaries has tried to remind us that it is dangerous to present the collection as a portfolio of visitor attractions. It is a portfolio of national heritage, and less than half the sites are considered capable of generating income. There is some perhaps healthy scepticism over whether the collection has enough revenue-making properties, and will be able to generate enough of a surplus to subsidise the rest.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the majority of English Heritage properties are what are known as unroofed and operate mainly on a maintenance basis. If English Heritage is to become self-sustaining in terms of revenue, it will need to concentrate on the 130 properties that are currently charged for. To become self-sustaining within the period will be a huge task, and it is not at all clear what will happen if it fails to do so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because that is precisely the reason for this debate. In principle, there is no objection to the proposal, but there is deep concern about how realistic it is. All Governments have a track record of rushing into reforms with the best of intentions, but it would be a disgrace if this were allowed to fail. We need to know how the Government plan to act should that happen.
Moving on from the sites to those going to see them, the National Trust has pointed out that the targets for membership and visitor numbers, on which the new model relies, are what it would call ambitious. The predicted growth in membership is 86% over the next 10 years. Even in its most successful decade, the National Trust grew its membership by only 20%, and the trust is five-star outstanding in terms of its membership organisation. If it questions the nature of the membership target, I would listen very carefully. The model is also reliant on visitor numbers going up by a predicted third. I hope that that is the case—we want this to work—and that we see English Heritage attract more and more of our constituents to enjoy its sites, but it is quite a leap, and many of us are worried about what would happen if we fail to make that leap in membership, visitor numbers and revenue.
The hon. Lady makes good points about dodgy projections. Does she share my concerns about visitor numbers? The number of visitors to English Heritage sites in 2002-03 was 5.5 million. Ten years later, in 2012-13, it was 5.1 million, yet there is a big increase in the numbers forecast for the next few years. Of course, a fifth of visitors to English Heritage sites at the moment go to Stonehenge, where the entrance fee for the fantastic new visitor centre has been raised from £8 to £14.90. There has been quite a lot of grumbling by potential punters wanting to go there.
I had not realised that it was almost £15 to go and see Stonehenge. That is well out of the reach of many family visitors, although I assume the pricing policies are used to encourage membership. Perhaps that has something to do with it. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the volatility of visitor numbers is worth considering.
The Heritage Alliance and the National Trust both point out how volatile visitor numbers are. They suggest that a sudden emergency such as foot and mouth, or even a couple of wet summers, which happen fairly frequently, can completely change the revenues and the cost of welcoming visitors to the sites. They both expressed the view that unless and until new English Heritage is able to build up reserves, the model must be considered financially precarious. That is not a situation in which we want to leave our historic monuments. Perhaps the Minister will explain how he decided that a charity would be the best structure. What governance arrangements will be considered for the charity? We need a lot of safeguards before we can feel confident about that.
The National Trust recommends that the building of reserves should in itself be included as a measure of success—I would make it a requirement of the new charity—so that we can have confidence that the charity will be able to survive unforeseen events such as extreme weather, flood damage and fire damage. More generally, the whole sector is concerned about the need for a contingency plan if the new model does not live up to the expected targets.
The Minister should hope for success, as we all do, but it would be reckless not to plan for failure. We have not seen what the Government have in mind. If the costs do not work out, the sites are too expensive and visitor targets are not hit, what happens? There is particular concern about what happens if the charity ends up with a shortfall: where does the money to plug that gap come from? It could be pulled from the budget of Historic England, which would have a consequence. It is intended that Historic England will protect a much greater array of heritage sites than just the national heritage collection. Will the Minister update Members on his departmental plans to ensure the model is sustainable? What contingency and risk management plans are being put in place in case self-sufficiency is not reached in the eight-year time frame?
Another concern that I want to touch on, which many of the respondents to the consultation brought up, is English Heritage’s duty as the owner of last resort. The consultation makes welcome reference to the fact that that will continue to be the responsibility of English Heritage, but there is an obvious question: will extra funding be made available should an urgent acquisition be necessary?
I have set out some of the general concerns that have been expressed. I genuinely look forward to hearing from colleagues about their concerns, and to hearing what the Minister has in mind. My constituents, and I think citizens all over this country, care a huge amount about our shared national heritage. They also care about the quality of curation, conservation and preservation. They care about the open access that they currently enjoy to many sites, and they are concerned that buildings should not be lost and that as yet undiscovered archaeological sites should not be tampered with lightly. I genuinely look forward to the Minister’s response.
The whole House owes a debt to the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for securing the debate. I declare an interest as a member of English Heritage. The image on this year’s membership card is a statue of King Richard III, whose mortal remains were recently discovered in a car park in Leicester—an outstanding feat of English archaeology. We now await the decision of the courts as to which of our noble cathedrals those mortal remains will be buried in.
I hope hon. Members will allow me to make a short contribution to this debate in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner. I will fully understand if the Minister replies in writing rather than responding at the end of the debate, given all the questions that other Members are going to ask.
To all Members.
Yes, to all Members.
From the Church of England’s perspective, I will emphasise three points raised in the consultation on the proposed split of English Heritage. As currently constituted, English Heritage plays an important role in progressing and sharing new discoveries in building conservation. The fact that the research specialists have their own estate on which to conduct trials and see problems at first hand means that they have a wide and deep knowledge of complex conservation issues. There is a risk that the split will isolate those conservation specialists from the estate, and thus weaken the progress of their research.
As Members will appreciate, churches are among the most complex historical buildings. The Church of England has within its stewardship 16,000 churches, 12,500 of which are either grade I or grade II listed. If everyone thinks of their local parish church, work will often have been done over many centuries, so we obviously have a considerable interest. Several major churches are currently involved in the nanolime trial research project for stonework conservation. Such research is valued by many across the heritage sector, and it would be an enormous pity if that work were either weakened or lost.
Secondly, English Heritage’s current role as a heritage advocate to Government is invaluable. As a whole, I suspect that the Church of England is big enough to defend and promote itself, but heritage is clearly not our primary purpose. The Church of England’s primary purpose is the care of souls, and English Heritage’s role in taking up the banner for the contribution of the heritage sector is key. The loss of English Heritage’s cathedrals team in 2009 demonstrates what happens when such advocacy is lost. For the past five years, until the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s welcome recent Budget announcement of £20 million to help with the maintenance and repair of cathedrals, there simply was no national funding for pure building repairs to cathedrals, which led to an £87 million shortfall that now has to be addressed collectively. Without English Heritage to speak up for cathedral repairs, cathedrals had to fight long and hard to be recognised as the key heritage assets that they are. With the statutory side of the new English Heritage being potentially vulnerable to ongoing and understandable reductions in Government funding, the Church of England needs to warn now that it would be disastrous if that loss of advocacy were to spread across the heritage sector.
Thirdly, the Church of England has its own action plan under the national heritage protection plan and has found the NHPP to be a useful mechanism for marshalling projects and prioritising work. We feel strongly that the NHPP should continue to form the business plan for heritage and should be held and managed by the statutory side of English Heritage. That is linked to my point about advocacy, as it is incredibly valuable for heritage organisations to be able to unite under the NHPP banner and for the Government to see that, in that way, English Heritage speaks for the sector as a whole. A strong English Heritage means a strong heritage sector that contributes to growth, renewal and community.
In addition to those three specific points, which I emphasise, the consultation document asked a number of specific questions, and it may help hon. Members if I share the Church of England’s response to a small number of those questions. Although we agree strongly with the proposed benefits of the new model for the national heritage collection, we are concerned that the new charity may have an adverse impact on the funding available to churches, as the charity is likely to make strong demands on the Heritage Lottery Fund. The number of visitors to cathedrals, not counting other churches, is some 11 million people a year, which is equivalent to current visitor levels to English Heritage properties. We ask that the importance of ecclesiastical heritage not in the care of English Heritage be given due weight in funding decisions.
I hope my right hon. Friend welcomes the £20 million that the Chancellor announced specifically for cathedrals alongside the new money for English Heritage. The Government are putting £100 million into our heritage.
Of course I welcome that money, and I have taken every conceivable opportunity to welcome it. I have written to every colleague.
Not to me.
Every colleague with a cathedral in their constituency. My constituency is a few miles from Christ Church cathedral, which benefits from Henry VIII’s munificence, so it does not count in that context. I have praised the funding at Church Commissioners questions, and I kneel before the Chancellor whenever he passes to thank him for the £20 million for cathedrals. We now need to start working on other bids. Of course we are grateful for the money we have received, but that has to be seen in the context of the estimated £87 million-worth of urgent and essential repairs that our cathedrals need. I suspect that we will get some match funding for that £20 million, but these are complex issues.
Research into historical buildings and their treatment is important work undertaken by English Heritage using its own properties. That work must not be lost by the new charity, which might not be able to prioritise that work due to limited resources. If the new charity does not take on the conservation research team, Historic England should be allowed to access the national heritage collection for research. The outcome must be that either the new charity or Historic England is required to research historical building preservation.
The advice provided by the present English Heritage to the Church of England through its response to faculty consultations, to staff membership of diocesan advisory committees and to the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England is extremely valuable. That input helps to keep the ecclesiastical exemption strong and robust, and the advisory work should continue with Historic England and be free at the point of delivery. The nation’s built heritage is an extremely valuable part of our national life.
We are sympathetic to what the Minister and his ministerial colleagues seek to achieve. Indeed, I personally and the Church of England as a whole are extremely grateful for the support that we receive from Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Minister’s fantastic and outstanding advocacy within Government for financial support for cathedrals was evidenced in the recent Budget, but it is important that we get right some of the important structural and organisational issues in the Government’s proposals, so I hope the Minister will consider carefully the Church of England’s responses.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on setting out the issues with such clarity and measured determination. Thirty years ago this week, I stood in the Banqueting house alongside Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and various others at the launch of English Heritage. I am not sure whether I should call them interests, but I declare that I have perspectives. First, I was public affairs adviser to English Heritage on its launch in 1984, and I acted in that role for nearly two years. Secondly, I am a historian and was editor of History Today in the 1990s, when I had a close view of all the ebbs and flows of the new organisation. Finally, I am a Member of Parliament for Blackpool, where for more than 15 years English Heritage has been a positive and helpful force, not just for our great buildings, such as the tower and the winter gardens, but in helping us to celebrate and develop our heritage strategy.
Only last week, for example, the chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, was in Blackpool to launch an English Heritage publication on the history of the town by the distinguished historian and contributor Allan Brodie. English Heritage has also done an enormous amount for the delicate negotiations on Blackpool borough council’s 2010 acquisition of the winter gardens and tower, and it has been involved in the delicate repair and restoration since.
English Heritage has been generally supportive of Blackpool. The 20th anniversary of English Heritage was marked by a conference and get-together of all its staff in Blackpool. I pay tribute to the leadership of Simon Thurley, whom I have known personally for more than 20 years in various guises, and to Henry Owen-John, the English Heritage north-west planning director, for his enormous contribution to Blackpool—his help has been fantastic. English Heritage has supported us with the concept of a museum of popular culture and the seaside, and the “Blackpool story” project will go before the Heritage Lottery Fund. Colleagues were encouraged by Simon’s positive words last week.
English Heritage has contributed to other initiatives, such as the creative people and places funding that we are getting from Arts Council England. English Heritage’s listening role and support for our sites has been key in many areas. I mention all those things, not simply because I am a Blackpool MP and I am expected to mention them, but because they offer a good case history of the multifarious roles that English Heritage has played over the years in historical advice, planning, publications support, townscape heritage and initiatives, and archaeology, which in our case is mainly industrial buildings and townscapes. Those multifarious roles have been and remain key to something that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.
We have heard about the nature of the properties. At the start of English Heritage, as a good public relations man, I was trying to sum up for journalists the difference between the National Trust and English Heritage, which was a completely new concept. I said, “There are many differences, but the one that you will notice most is that most of our buildings have not got roofs on, and most of the National Trust’s do.” That rapidly changed, of course, with the abolition of the Greater London council and the acquisition by English Heritage of Kenwood house and Marble Hill house.
That glorious confection of stuff, if I can call it that, which would and could be affected by the split between English Heritage and Historic England is at the heart of the concerns being expressed. I will refer to the excellent articles by Nick Clark in The Independent in December last year and March this year, in which he raised some of those concerns, particularly in reply to an early analysis of the responses to the plan. The March article stated:
“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 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.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) have already made that point. Those important issues have to be addressed and cannot be glossed over.
The English Heritage briefing provided for this debate by Stacey Frier, its senior parliamentary adviser, sets out the history, challenges and problems well, but it skates on thin ice when it starts to develop what I can only call a cracker-barrel justification for commercial activity. In particular, I have to take issue with the line that states:
“Running a £78 million visitor business, as English Heritage now does, was beyond the imagination of those who established it in 1983.”
I can tell the House—I am duty-bound to those individuals who were there, and one who is no longer here to say it—that the people who took part in that process were well aware of how English Heritage might develop in a commercial and expansionist way. Was it beyond the imagination of Michael Heseltine, who set it up, or of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who remains one of the most successful historic entrepreneurs in history? Was it beyond the imagination of Peter Rumble or Jennie Page, who served with great distinction as chief executives? Was it beyond the imagination of Francis Golding, who was deputy chief executive and subsequently a distinguished planner and adviser? He is missed, following his premature death in a cycling accident last year.
On the contrary, the development of the English Heritage visitor business was at the centre of all those early discussions. It was balanced, however, by the need to reflect the scholarship and to look at how to move ahead, how to market, and how to lay the foundations of expansion, while keeping from bastardising the heritage even as it was popularised. It was about balance and understanding. Even at that early stage—in 1984 and 1985, the commissioners went on what can only be described as royal tours of the regions to advertise the new body—there was a balance between visiting Hadrian’s wall and looking at heritage properties in Newcastle. There was a balance between visiting Kirby Muxloe and looking at the Bosworth battlefield and its interpretation. Those things are important, not just to get the history right, but to understand how we resolve these issues today.
Of course, the Government’s proposals are a response to long-standing funding problems for, and cuts to, English Heritage since the 1990s. I am not here to play party politics with that, because that happened under all Governments, although the 32% cut in the English Heritage grant in 2010 was particularly difficult. The proposal to split is radical. I do not have a problem in principle with radical proposals, but it is the detail, the limits and the sense of holistic connection that people are rightly worried by. The big issues remain unaddressed in detail. How will the regional structure of English Heritage or Historic England be affected, at a time when Michael Heseltine is rightly leading an agenda for greater devolution? Incidentally, what engagement has there been with local authorities in particular, and the Local Government Association in general? What will happen to the focus, balance and remit of the publications, broad and specialised, that come out of English Heritage? Where will they reside? What will happen to the support for archaeology?
What will happen to the subtle connectivity between English Heritage and what is proposed to be called Historic England? That connectivity will not necessarily be reflected in the formal arrangements. The English Heritage press release refers to the national heritage collection being run by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England—that is, English Heritage—on its behalf. I feel a bit queasy about that phraseology. It is almost as if it is another gorgeous little jewel box that we will simply wrap up in a candyfloss “Downton Abbey” format. English Heritage sites are both grand and gritty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has said, but the connectivity between the grand and the gritty is important, as is support for the difference between them.
The Heritage Alliance has made criticisms regarding the ability to hold those things in balance. Its submission states:
“The financial projections…presented to support the case for the charity to achieve financial viability…were inadequate to form an informed judgment. The risk of failure is high and the Government must set out contingency arrangements. The potential for conflict of interest between the new Charity Board…and the Historic Monuments and Building Commission for England…is not resolved. The pressure to generate revenue should not favour investment in those with commercial potential. The whole Collection is a national resource for public benefit.”
I come back to some of the subtler themes. We are not simply talking about wonderful heritage assets for tourists, however important they are; we are talking about the body of landmarks in our nation’s history. Before English Heritage, the Historic Buildings Council and the Ancient Monuments Board had great scholars, but did not punch above their weight with the wider public, or reach a wider audience. English Heritage has been able to square that circle effectively.
I quote the observations of a distinguished historian who is a friend of mine:
“The new statutory body is set up by these means and funded for seven years, but what is happening thereafter….£80 million is also trumpeted as a means of immediately repairing and maintaining the ‘collection’ of buildings, but it won’t go far and again will come to an end, leaving…a lot of particularly fragile, ruinous structures at the mercy of fragile local trusts to run them and pay for expensive repairs. Stonehenge may pay its way”—
or possibly not, given the price increase we have heard about today—
“many others cannot. Then, of course, there is the issue as to whether Historic England will feel pressured into giving expert advice to developers as a means of raising income.”
That is absolute nonsense. First, the hon. Gentleman says that £80 million will not go very far, but I suggest that £80 million goes slightly further than no million pounds. It is £80 million of new money going into English Heritage properties. To cast the aspersion that English Heritage and Historic England will be the creatures of developers and will be used to raise money, based on absolutely no evidence at all, is pretty scandalous.
It is interesting that the Minister should be so pricked by that, because I did not say any of those things.
No, I did not. The Hansard record will bear out that I said that these were the fears and concerns of a friend—[Interruption.] Will the Minister allow me to finish? He has had his say. He must come back with reasoned arguments as to why those concerns will not be realised. I accept that £80 million is a lot of money, but we are talking about a settlement that should endure not for seven or eight years but for 20, 30 or 40 years, or whatever is a reasonable period of time. It is not unreasonable for outside bodies to raise the issue of whether the settlement is appropriate.
For good or ill, this is the biggest single shake-up in the heritage landscape for 30 years, yet the plan remains veiled. Access to the business plan is restricted. If it is not, the Minister can tell us today when he will make it available to the House. I want to make it clear, before he tries to misrepresent me further, that I am not opposed to the principle of the division, but the devil is in the detail, as he knows. It is the duty of the House and of Members present to ask specific questions about the devil and the detail. The Opposition spokeswoman, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), and the Minister obviously have restrictions on the time available for them to respond, but I challenge the Minister, given the huge change, to hold proper full-length debates in this House and the other House, in Government time, about the Government’s proposals.
I am not in charge of Government business, but I will happily arrange for the hon. Gentleman to meet the chairman of English Heritage. All hon. and right hon. Members present are welcome to come to a meeting with the chairman, and to put to him whatever points they wish to make.
With all due respect to the Minister, his offer, which is gracious and accepted, does not address the overall issue—[Interruption.] Will the Minister let me finish? We have already had a number of informal meetings at which these issues have been raised. I am talking about a proper debate on the Floor of the House—I know that the Minister is not in charge of that, but he could talk to his Whips—at some point in the next few months, during which we could discuss the matter.
My limited understanding of parliamentary procedure is that the Opposition have a number of debates each week. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) will give up one such debate to this subject.
It is the not the Opposition who are bringing the proposals forward. It is the Government who should be held to account; it is down to the Government to bring forward a debate.
The Minister faces a challenge of openness and accountability, as well as one of style. He has got slightly worked up today, but he is generally an amiable guy, which I know because I have seen him on other occasions. His style occasionally resembles that of Derren Brown—now you see it, now you don’t—but what we need from the Minister and his team is more precision, more grit and more detail. English Heritage staff, its supporters and the general public need all that to have confidence in the Minister’s proposals, which may be the best solution. This year marks the centenary of the start of world war one, and I do not want the Minister or English Heritage to end up in the situation described in Siegfried Sassoon’s famous poem “The General”:
“‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack…
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.”
I declare an interest as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Today’s debate has centred on the conservation and management of English Heritage properties, and I understand why, but I want to move the debate on to the bigger picture, because English Heritage is responsible for much more than that. The hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken have alluded to that, but have not concentrated on it. For example, English Heritage’s relationship with local authorities, which manage in excess of 95% of archaeology, is perceived to be in need of improvement.
As we move forward into the Historic England situation, there is a need for some robust taking-by-the-collar and shaking out of what is happening. We are in a period of change in the archaeological world—quite radical change, in some cases, and it needs to be made more radical through English Heritage’s role in the whole exercise. I have recently examined the relationship between archaeology and local government services. English Heritage was interviewed as part of that work, and it can play a substantial role in taking the discussion forward. The planning system is where archaeology comes into contact with the real world, and the arrangements need to be worked out in greater detail.
The current backlog was mentioned earlier. I am sure that the issue can be raised at different levels, but English Heritage told us that the problem with trying to make the process of museums accessing archaeological material more robust is the limited amount of control that English Heritage has. Almost every piece of Roman brick found on an excavation is bagged up and sent off in a box, at enormous cost, to be put into a museum collection. We do not need to keep every piece of Roman tile or brick. We need someone to make a judgment about the importance of finds. It would be easy for English Heritage to set a scope for that in its dealings with local authorities and archaeologists, but it cannot, because the list of what should be included and how it should be accessed is the responsibility of Arts Council England. English Heritage needs to do some work to wrest that responsibility back to where it needs to be.
English Heritage could play a much bigger role. Those in the development industry, which pays for most of our archaeology, are short of any idea of what service they will receive when they undertake the necessary archaeology to meet the sustainability criterion of the national planning policy framework. English Heritage could prioritise the facilitation of service level agreements between authorities and the public at large. It would not need to produce or monitor the agreements, but it could be effective in taking the initiative with archaeologists and developers. A suggestion was made to the Minister about how that relationship could be funded in future, and although I will not say anything in detail about that, there is a role for English Heritage and Historic England to play as distributors of funds to local authorities that sign up to service level agreements. If a service level agreement is signed up to, the developer will know what it is getting and the funding can be distributed.
That is an important role that English Heritage and Historic England could play in the development of this area. It would be far from turning English Heritage into a creature of development, but would recognise who pays for the archaeology in this country. Something should be given back to the developers for their contribution to the preservation of our heritage.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Osborne.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) not only on securing this important debate on the future of English Heritage, but on the measured and informed way in which she set out the issues involved. I also take a moment to thank the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) for his special pleading on behalf of cathedrals and successfully getting more money for them in the Budget. If the Minister could see to it that some of that money comes the way of Durham cathedral, that would be great—I thank him.
I endorse many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) in his excellent speech. I will comment on the impact of the Government’s proposed changes to English Heritage in the north-east and in my constituency in particular, but I will first speak more generally about the vital role of English Heritage in securing our national heritage. If the Minister will forgive me, I will set out a series of anxieties about his proposals. If he could come back to me with some reassurances, that would be helpful.
As we have heard, English Heritage was set up by the National Heritage Act 1983, so it has not had a huge amount of time to get established. I am not sure that the Government have yet demonstrated clearly why there is a need for change, beyond the assertion that the system is not working. English Heritage had three prongs to its activities: to preserve ancient monuments and historic buildings; to promote the preservation of the character and appearance of conservation areas; and to promote public enjoyment of such areas. If the Government are promoting change, they need to be clear about the particular aspect of English Heritage’s work on which it was not delivering. That case has not been made. The Government, however, plan to create a new charity arm of English Heritage to manage the national heritage collection and a new non-departmental organisation, Historic England, to carry out English Heritage’s statutory duties.
I am concerned about the Government’s proposed changes to the national heritage collection, but in the time available I want to focus on the possible impact of the proposed changes to English Heritage’s role as statutory adviser and consultee on heritage sites outside the collection. English Heritage has a broad remit to manage the historical environment of England beyond the 400 or so sites in the collection, which includes scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings, registered parks and gardens, and conservation areas in England. A key part of the English Heritage remit is to advise the Secretary of State on policy and in individual cases such as the registering of listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. That role is vital to my constituency. Durham is a beautiful, historic city; we have many such historic cities throughout the country, but none of them is quite as beautiful as Durham. The role of English Heritage in protecting that environment and in ensuring that it is there for future generations to enjoy cannot be overestimated.
English Heritage’s remit includes archaeology, historic building sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historical elements of the wider landscape. It also monitors and reports on the state of England’s heritage. I am concerned that the Government’s consultation did not give enough weight to such a significant part of English Heritage’s role. The organisation also acts as a custodian of last resort if heritage sites are at risk. Safeguarding that role is particularly important in the north-east, due to the region’s unique heritage. Border conflicts have left a lasting legacy of defensive sites, such as Hadrian’s wall and, in my constituency, Durham castle.
My hon. Friend mentions Hadrian’s wall. Is she aware that the trust responsible for managing it has just this week failed, because it was unable to make sufficient funds from its commercial activities to look after the site?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is one of the anxieties that I will come to in a moment.
English Heritage also looks after many other small sites of vital importance in the north-east, which has 1,383 scheduled monuments, 1,235 listed buildings, 287 conservation areas, 53 registered parks and gardens and six historic battlefields. The north-east region was also an early centre of the conversion to Christianity and an important seat of learning connected with historic scholars such as St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede; all that led to the magnificent Durham cathedral in my constituency, which is regularly voted the country’s favourite building. More recently, the region has been celebrated for its industrial heritage as well. It was the birthplace of the modern railway and home to numerous collieries, shipyards, lead mines and metal works. Protecting that heritage is vital to understanding modern Britain.
The region has two world heritage sites, one of which—Durham castle and cathedral—is in my constituency. Durham cathedral is particularly significant because of its exceptional architecture, such as its demonstration of architectural innovation, and the relics and material culture of the three saints buried at the site, Cuthbert, Bede and Oswald. I could go into its many other points as well. Critically, the whole of the centre of Durham is a conservation area in order to preserve and protect the area around such an important historical site.
I agree with the Minister that there is a strong role for local authorities in protecting the quality of our built and historical environment and in deciding what goes into the buffer zone surrounding world heritage sites or ends up in conservation areas. That role for local authorities, however, has been supported and strengthened over the years by advice from English Heritage.
Nothing will change under Historic England, which will still carry out that role. I cannot see the concerns.
It is helpful that the Minister is giving such strong reassurance this afternoon, but more reassurance is important given the drastic nature of the proposed changes to English Heritage. Particularly in its role as a statutory consultee in planning, English Heritage is vital. I will give two examples from my constituency.
The work of English Heritage was essential in getting a public inquiry into a development on the riverside on a hugely sensitive site. It supported the call-in, and we then had the public inquiry, ending up with a much better development on the site because of the intervention of English Heritage, which is doing much the same over the proposed development of the County hospital site. Where such advice is ignored, we can end up with poor developments, which we have occasionally had in Durham over the past couple of years. I will take the Minister at his word, however, and if he says that that role in planning advice and as a statutory consultee and adviser will continue, along with adequate funding so that it can be effective, that is a good thing.
The Minister will have to address some of the issues raised by the Heritage Alliance, which points out that the funding settlement is assured only until 2016, and that the profile and regulatory nature of the smaller, rump body might weaken its call on central Government support, but that heritage is essential to the national economy because of tourism and the construction, creative and cultural industries. The alliance wants funding to be available in the longer term and wants more detailed public consultation on the changes. If the Minister does not think we need more detailed consultation, perhaps he will explain why.
It is important that we should continue to conserve England’s historical environment and the special areas of the country that have beautiful heritage and a unique built environment in need of special protection.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate. English Heritage does fine work to protect historic places in England, and to preserve the past so that future generations may discover it. I fully appreciate the hon. Lady’s concern that it should remain financially secure, so that key historic sites, and particularly those that do not attract high numbers of visitors, will be protected. However, it is vital during the changes that English Heritage should do all it can to allow people to be involved with historic sites in their area. That lets them connect with their heritage, and it will help to preserve historic sites and improve their financial viability. Sadly, that is not what has happened to Fort Brockhurst, in my constituency. My remarks will be blatantly parochial and will deal with the performance of English Heritage in my area.
Fort Brockhurst is an imposing structure built in the 1850s and 1860s to protect Portsmouth harbour against a French invasion. The sides and top are covered in grass; clearly Victorian architects assumed that that might fool the French. It has a magnificent red brick, moated keep, gun ramps and fascinating buildings, but there is also a massive green space in the middle, which local people enjoyed for decades. It played host to many concerts and even car boot sales over the years, and other events that brought the community together. However, it also brought to life the military history that is such a feature of the Gosport peninsula. It became a tangible asset for generations of youngsters, who grew up proud of their area’s role in the defence of the nation.
Unfortunately, such events ground to a halt, and that striking example of mid-19th century fortification is now open to the public for only a few hours a month, in the summer. Throughout the winter its doors are barred to all comers. It is a gently rotting relic of the past, with no life or role in the community where it used to have an integral place. Would not it be wonderful if the community could rally together to breathe life back into it?
The situation is frustrating, because there exists a community organisation in Gosport that has been willing and able to staff the site, provide tours, and maintain and restore it. It is called the Gosport Shed. It is a social club for older men, and it gives retired men a chance to keep active by working with their hands, mending things and learning new skills while meeting new people. As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely, and many are older or retired men. Groups such as the Gosport Shed offer them great opportunities to make new friends and take up a new hobby. A wonderful man called Martin Corrick founded it to help retired men battle social isolation and depression.
Originally Gosport Shed struck a deal with English Heritage to make its home in Fort Brockhurst. It was a fantastic example of local people coming together to do something for the community. Maintaining the historic site also offered older people a project to give them a renewed sense of purpose. I know that the local curator was supportive, but unfortunately the group felt that English Heritage threw obstacles in its path, until eventually, its tenure recently became unsuitable and unsustainable. The group has now moved out, and thankfully has found a new home at Priddy’s Hard, the home of the Explosion! museum of naval firepower, which is also in my constituency. Thanks to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, members will help to restore the grounds and the amazing old buildings, and will offer guided tours of the ramparts. They have been welcomed with open arms. Yet, although the Gosport Shed has found a new home, Fort Brockhurst remains locked up, and for most of the year is closed to the public. Officially it is used for storage, although it is beyond me to think what could reasonably be stored in a damp, decaying building.
Does the Minister agree that in a discussion of how we protect historic buildings, it is crucial that English Heritage should remember that it is the guardian of our heritage, not that of clerks, curators and museum keepers? Fort Brockhurst should offer local people the chance to connect with the history of the region, rather than being a dusty old store room. It should play an integral role in the community. English Heritage says that it wants community groups to consider local heritage, and that it wants to encourage people to be involved in preserving history. Unfortunately, however, when local people tried to help preserve an historic site, they were shut out. Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that they were not only shut out of an old building, but were shut out of part of their history?
Our unique heritage is not something to be kept under lock and key. It should be a living thing that groups and individuals feel they can engage with. I do not know whether the example I have outlined is an isolated one. I hope that it is. Does the Minister agree that, to face the future, we must remember that we and English Heritage are guardians of our heritage, and that there is little point in preserving that as a dusty relic that no one can see, enjoy, learn from or participate in?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on obtaining the debate. The proposed change is a huge one for English Heritage and it is right for us to have an opportunity to consider it in the House.
The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, has taken a close interest in English Heritage for some years. We understand that the budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been under considerable pressure and that within it English Heritage has perhaps borne greater reductions than some other funding bodies. There is no question but that it has had a difficult time. It is a remarkable achievement by the Minister to manage to persuade the Treasury to come up with an extraordinary amount of money to sustain English Heritage—we hope—in the longer term. I pay tribute not just to the Minister but to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who was in the Chamber until a short time ago, and who, I think, played a large part.
The scheme is radical and imaginative, and I welcome it in principle. The Minister will understand that there are one or two concerns, and I hope he will use the opportunity to set minds at rest on certain points. In particular, it is estimated that the backlog of maintenance repairs for English Heritage properties is of the order of £52 million, which will be funded out of the £80 million. That is welcome, although I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) about the impact on visitors while the work is taking place. However, I should be interested to know where the estimate of £52 million came from. The Minister will be aware that some people argue that the maintenance and repair backlog for English Heritage properties is even greater. Indeed, I have seen figures of up to £100 million.
The hon. Member for Darlington raised the central point of what happens once that money is spent. The intention is that English Heritage should become self-sustaining in the longer term, but only a small number of its 400 properties generate serious income. English Heritage has a few iconic sites such as Stonehenge, and Dover and Kenilworth castles, but an awful lot of its sites do not generate revenue. If there is an expectation that in a few years the property portfolio will be capable of generating the kind of money that will be needed to sustain the required maintenance work, we need a little more confidence about that, and an indication of what will happen if the target is not met.
In particular, we are concerned that Historic England’s budget should not be raided and that the new charity should not be able to divest itself of certain properties if it is not capable of sustaining them. I seek a little more detail on that issue. I am also concerned about the impact that a more aggressive marketing campaign for English Heritage properties will have on the heritage properties in private ownership. The Historic Houses Association is having a difficult time, and its life will be made much more difficult if faces tougher competition from English Heritage properties. To what extent has that been taken into account?
Finally—the Minister and the Opposition spokesman need time to make the winding-up speeches—reference was made to the role of local authorities. I am deeply concerned about the extent to which the resource in local authorities, in the form of conservation officers, has steadily declined. There has been a massive loss of expertise in local authorities, which is making Historic England’s job more difficult, as well as local authorities’ role in preserving the heritage for which they are responsible. I wonder whether the Minister would like to say something about that as well.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I must declare an interest, as I am a trustee of Auckland castle. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate and on making such a good opening speech, which gave an excellent overview of the work of English Heritage and the financial issues that have arisen from the Government’s proposals. I did not know she was an archaeologist, but it was clear that she did a lot of digging in preparing for her speech.
I thank my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) and for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods). My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South has been involved in this issue from the very beginning, and he has brought his great knowledge and experience to bear. There is no more passionate defender of Durham than my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham.
The quality of the built environment is incredibly important to people’s well-being, and their sense of place is defined by the buildings around them. Indeed, some buildings become the institutions in people’s minds. Thus, for many people, Parliament is Big Ben, and the Church is their local parish church. Therefore, how we care for, preserve, enhance and use our heritage sites is incredibly important. If it is done well, it is a source of pleasure and enjoyment for generations to come. There is, of course, an economic and financial payoff from the tourism income it generates for the country, but it is worth doing in itself; it is not a burden but a privilege. Our aim this afternoon is to test whether the Minister’s proposal will achieve those aims.
It is logical to put the management of the 420 sites into a charitable trust while retaining their ownership by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, given the 45% cuts to English Heritage in this Parliament. It is welcome that an £85 million dowry from the Treasury has been secured and that there will be greater management freedom to raise money, but will the Minister guarantee that the sites that are currently free will remain so? What will happen if other sources of income do not materialise? He is assuming a philanthropic income of £84 million in a climate of huge pressure on philanthropic funds, which other hon. Members have described. Is that £84 million realistic? What will happen if it does not materialise?
Local authorities are under massive pressure, totally, if I may say so, caused by the 40% cuts imposed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. High-profile sites might attract grants and philanthropic giving, but what about the others? Even more worryingly, what will happen to English Heritage’s role as custodian of last resort? What if there is another Windsor castle? What if another building that is not in the English Heritage or National Trust portfolio is seriously damaged? If Castle Howard has a big fire, are the Government seriously suggesting they will walk away? What contingency has been made for that? Nigel Hewitson of Norton Rose said:
“The distinction between English Heritage and the National Trust is that the former is the custodian of last resort…The National Trust won’t take properties on unless they have a dowry for future maintenance.”
English Heritage does precisely that.
That is far from being an unrealistic risk, as the news from Hadrian’s wall amply demonstrates. The trust set up to safeguard the wall is to be closed down as a result of funding cuts. Staff at Hadrian’s Wall Trust face an uncertain future. The body tasked with managing the world heritage site will be lost. English Heritage has reduced the funds for Hadrian’s wall management over the past three years. We are told that a working group will be chaired by Northumberland county council, the partnership will be chaired by Cumbria county council, and there will be a steering group with members from the public, private and voluntary sectors. I am sorry to say that that sounds utterly chaotic. People in the north-east cannot believe that the Government can rightly find a lot of money to invest in Stonehenge but cannot get their act together adequately to look after Hadrian’s wall. People do not believe that that would have happened if the wall were in the south. It is shameful that the northern extent of the Roman empire, marked with wall built 2,000 years ago, is in doubt under the Tory-led Government. It is amazing that the Romans were able to build a wall 1,500 miles from their capital but the Minister cannot look after one 300 miles from his.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
The Minister will have an opportunity to respond in a moment, but I want to hear some reassurances about the wall.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I would really rather not.
The consultation brought forth a series of critical comments. Heritage Alliance, which has 6.3 million members, said that
“the direction of travel is ominous…Worst case scenarios must be addressed and contingency plans drawn up.”
The Society of Antiquaries of London seriously doubts
“that the envisaged charity could become self-funding, while maintaining standards of curatorial care and property maintenance”.
Doubts have been raised about the capacity of the remaining body, Historic England, in the words of the National Trust, to retain the expertise and capacity
“to protect our historic fabric”.
The Historic Houses Association said it
“would be extremely concerned if”
the expert advisory service
“were to be reduced or diluted in any way.”
I share those worries. I am tempted to say that that is the greatest risk. An underfunded Historic England would not be able to provide the protection needed. The 420 sites are 0.05% of the scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings and so forth. The other 99.95% will fall to Historic England in the Minister’s model. What will happen to them?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
The concern is whether Historic England will have sufficient resources to look after the 99.95% of scheduled and listed buildings. That is extremely difficult, given the local authority cuts. Local authorities have been forced to shed 25% of their specialist heritage staff. We would therefore like to hear a clear statement from the Minister on whether English Heritage intends to provide advice on a fee-paying basis to some stakeholders. Losses as a result of the cuts could be the worst risk, because it could be a mediaeval dovecote in one place, a Tudor wall somewhere else and a Georgian garden in another place—none big enough to arouse national campaigns, but all bringing a loss to local heritage.
No doubt the Minister will tell us about the Farrell review of architecture and the built environment. There are a number of good ideas in that report, but I was not immediately attracted to the proposals on cultural heritage. Is not the proposal to make listing “less academic” code for dumbing down? The Minister is looking puzzled. He wrote the foreword to the report; he obviously has not read it. Seeking to elide the views of the Design Council with those of English Heritage is surely a way of suppressing the views of English Heritage. The report says:
“The value of our building stock is no longer just historical or architectural”.
That is very worrying. Had we had listing by public opinion polls, St Pancras railway station would have been demolished 50 years ago. It was only the sustained campaign by Sir John Betjeman that made it popular in the public mind.
The point is that architecture goes in and out of fashion. That applies not just to modern architecture, but to views of earlier architecture. How boring it would be if London consisted only of Georgian terraces or only of the mediaeval and the modern. A place is complex and multi-layered, built over time by many generations, and all of those things should be reflected in the built environment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I have to say that after listening to a number of speeches during this debate, I now understand why they are called wind-ups.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate on the future of English Heritage. We have had a very interesting discussion, and I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part. Before I go on to my main remarks, I want to correct some of the points made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). She said that we southerners paid for Stonehenge but will not pay for Hadrian’s wall. Actually, we did not pay for Stonehenge, so we will not pay for anything, if you like. The Stonehenge visitor centre was paid for entirely through a fundraising campaign by English Heritage; it did not use taxpayers’ money. I am very confident, having engaged closely with Northumberland county council, that the arrangements for Hadrian’s wall, the majority of which is ably managed by English Heritage, will continue after the demise of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. In fact, it will ensure that we can spend money more effectively to support Hadrian’s wall.
I do not think that English Heritage now or in the future would necessarily be in a position to save Castle Howard were it, God forbid, to burn down. I cannot be entirely sure of my facts here, but I am pretty certain that no public money was used to restore Windsor castle when £36 million was spent on it after the horrific fire in 1992.
The point about the Farrell review was to celebrate the fact that the artificial divide between modern architecture and heritage has dissolved. Heritage and modern architects now work a great deal in partnership, as was shown by the fact that the Stirling prize, traditionally seen as the great modern architecture prize, went to the Landmark Trust last year for a heritage building that had been beautifully restored by a modern architect. As someone who took the “brave” decision, as my officials would have described it, to list Preston bus station, I bow to no one in my homage to modern architecture, but as someone who regards Durham cathedral as one of the most magnificent structures in this kingdom, I also bow to no one in my devotion to heritage. In fact, that is what has led us here today, because I want a fantastic future for English Heritage.
I hate to say it, but there was a lot of tilting at windmills during the debate, with a number of hon. Members saying, “Will the new charity be able to do this? Will it be able to do that?”, suggesting that there are certain things that English Heritage can do now that it will not be able to do in future. However, there is no doubt that the two new bodies that are effectively being created—Historic England, the regulator of heritage, and English Heritage, which will run and manage the properties on behalf of the nation—will still have exactly the same powers as they have now.
But not the resources.
There is no doubt that Historic England will be able to carry out the work that English Heritage already carries out fantastically, particularly helping cities such as Durham. The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) muttered about resources. He said that I got slightly wound up during the debate, and I know that one should not react, but it is mildly galling, with £80 million having been found to launch the new charity and to clear the huge backlog of repairs, that people are now muttering about resources.
Will the Minister consider, in setting up Historic England, whether it could be given additional powers to protect our historical environment, particularly with regard to views around world heritage sites and so on?
That is an interesting point. In no way do I wish to bat back what the hon. Lady says, but we are debating the future of English Heritage as an organisation, and I am obviously a great advocate for that future. She is inviting me, perfectly legitimately, to debate wider heritage powers that Government could introduce and which organisation would have those powers. I have to say, without wishing to bind the Government in any way, that I have a lot of sympathy for her point of view. I, for one, value views and landscapes as much as our built environment, and I think that it is important that we preserve them where we can.
English Heritage has been in place for 30 years, and our system of heritage protection began, broadly speaking, a century ago, with the passing of the Ancient Monuments Act 1913. By the way, an excellent book was published on that by Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage. It is available in all good bookshops. As that book and the creation of English Heritage show, the system of heritage protection constantly evolves. I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South that Michael Heseltine and the other people who were present at the launch of English Heritage—I am thinking in particular of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu—were perfectly capable of imagining the kind of future that English Heritage now sees. However, I think that they would also agree that as that bright future comes into being, we must look at the structures that support it.
It is a fact that the national heritage collection is an £84 million business. It attracts 5 million visitors a year and it needs investment and a long-term plan. That is why English Heritage has proposed an eight-year programme of reform to establish a new model for the management of the national heritage collection. It is a model that we support. It will be supported by the investment of £80 million, alongside the additional £20 million that we have found for cathedrals. It will allow essential conservation work to be carried out, and it will allow investment in new projects to build on commercial success and enhance the visitor experience. It will allow it to grow its income to become a more resilient organisation. We hope by the end of the eight years, the management of the national collection will be self-financing.
My understanding was that English Heritage’s current function as the owner of last resort should continue. My question was whether there is enough finance to fulfil that. At the moment, English Heritage has a number of strategies for saving heritage at risk—
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Of course—
I am taking back the floor.
The Minister seemed to walk away from that—
I am taking back the floor. The point is that English Heritage, as now, will be the saviour of last resort. That is the point I am making. People see the change in English Heritage as meaning that any future problems will somehow be the result of the change in the structure. English Heritage is able to take, as an owner of last resort, a property that is threatened. There are a whole host of factors that come into play, one of which will be financing. If a property were to come up now, English Heritage might find that it did not have the financing. That would be a straightforward point.
Nothing will change under the new model. English Heritage will still be, potentially, the owner of last resort. A whole range of factors, depending on the particular situation, will influence whether it chooses to step in. As the hon. Lady knows, when it becomes the owner of last resort, English Heritage tries to move the property on. Sometimes it will stay in the national collection, but often English Heritage will want to put it back with a different owner to continue its future.
I have only got a minute left, but I want to make a simple and straightforward point. Change is happening, but the fundamentals will not change. Historic England will continue its brilliant role as the steward of our wide historical environment. It will continue to list, it will continue to research and it will continue to support the hon. Member for Darlington and other hon. Members who care about heritage. The national charity will, under a licence from Historic England, manage the properties, which will still be owned by the Government.