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National Lottery Heritage Fund Grants: Conservation Management Plans

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to ensure that Conservation Management Plans for parks and gardens which have received National Lottery Heritage Fund grants are properly preserved and safeguarded for public availability and use.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of maintaining a record of the UK’s landscape heritage. The National Lottery Heritage Fund will make available on request a list of funded projects potentially containing conservation management plans, to enable interested parties to request copies of those plans as needed. The fund will also strengthen the emphasis on creating a legacy record for funded projects and on making this publicly accessible wherever possible.

My Lords, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has provided sterling support for parks and gardens throughout the UK through some £50 million of grants. In the process it has accumulated an invaluable archive of conservation management plans covering the history, ecology, archaeology, social context and design of those parks and gardens. That physical archive has now been destroyed, much to the dismay of numerous garden conservation and archival bodies. Beyond the welcome but limited steps in his Answer, what can the Minister do to ensure that proper procedures are put in place so that, in future, important material of this kind held by the NHLF and other bodies with responsibilities to the public is properly looked after and made available? Will he encourage all such bodies to publish their records management policies and procedures to ensure greater transparency and oversight?

The noble Lord paid tribute to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting landscape projects. It has given more than £1.1 billion to more than 13,000 landscape projects since it started. Historic England has also looked at maintaining archive records and has set up the heritage information access strategy programme, which is due to be delivered by 2022. It will facilitate the free uploading and storage of information in a publicly accessible database by any organisation. However, the problem remains that the copyright of these conservation management plans rests with the grantee, or sometimes the contractor, not with the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

My Lords, can it be true that a body created by statute, with no responsibility other than to protect heritage, should have deliberately decided to destroy its own physical archive relating to the conservation and management of historic parks and gardens, which it has itself done so much over more than 20 years to support? Does it not beggar belief that the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aware as it most certainly is of the fragility of digital archives, should have perpetrated such an act of vandalism? Can the Minister reassure us that this story is just a bad dream?

No, it is not a bad dream. However, it is more complicated than the noble Lord portrays. First, the records that were destroyed were not originals. The originals remain with the grantee of the fund. The conservation management programmes that the National Lottery Heritage Fund possessed were copies from a point in time. They were living documents and were changed; they were not the originals. Secondly, the fund does not retain the copyright, so even if it retained the documents, it would not be able to make them publicly available. It is trying to ensure that in future the grantees of National Lottery funds are able to make the documents publicly available, and they are encouraged to do so, but there are issues about finding an archive prepared to take all those documents.

My Lords, I strongly support the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Howarth. What steps are being taken to ensure that similar archive material held by other bodies such as the National Trust, which straddles Wales and England, and by bodies in Wales, such as Cadw and Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru, is also preserved? What discussions have taken place between the Minister’s department and the Welsh Government on those matters?

The National Archives has talked to bodies such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund to make sure that they can make arrangements in future so that there is a single point of access, if you like, for these documents. As I said before, the issue is making sure that the owner of the intellectual property or the copyright enables that to happen. Physically, it is possible. The archives sector is discussing that, and Historic England is promoting the heritage information access strategy, which is designed to do exactly that and have one point of access.

My Lords, as we are marking this very month the 150th anniversary of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, now subsumed in the National Archives, can my noble friend follow up on what he said a few minutes ago, indicating that what have been destroyed are copies? Can we establish how many of the originals survive, and at the very least can a list of those—properly tabulated—be deposited in the National Archives?

As I mentioned earlier, the fund has offered to compile a list of the 1,300 park and garden projects for which conservation management plans might have been produced, although it estimates that there are about 500 to 600. As I said, that list will be available to those who ask for it.

My Lords, have the Government asked the copyright owners whether they will donate their copyright to the nation?

The Government have not been in touch with the 1,300 grantees but, as I said, the fund is producing a list of the 500 to 600 for which conservation management plans might have been produced. It will be able to ask those copyright holders whether they are interested in doing that.

My Lords, it is clear that something terrible happened, but surely the way to make sure that it does not happen again is to give the National Archives absolute responsibility, whereby any holder of archives should consult it before contemplating any destruction or removal.

I am sorry but I do not agree with the noble Lord that something terrible has happened. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has no remit to retain records. It is not an archive; it is there to promote heritage, and it is able to spend on heritage the £150,000 a year that is saved. First, as I said, the originals remain with the grantees. Secondly, the fund took legal advice and, even if it had retained them, it would not have been able to make them available. Therefore, there was no point spending £150,000 a year on retaining the documents when they were not the originals and the originals were available elsewhere.