IHBC-EH-ALGAO report: England’s heritage threatened by loss of expertise

A new report by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), supported by English Heritage (EH), into England’s local authority conservation staffing, shows continued long terms cuts, with the number of conservation specialists in English councils falling by 4% in 2012, part of a devastating 33% cut since 2006.

This massive loss in conservation knowledge and specialist advice equates to the reduction of one in three conservation officer posts in local government, threatening the proper care of heritage as well as the huge investment of public monies into England’s historic environment by bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The 2013 Annual Report on Local Authority Staff Resources, is based on survey work carried out in partnership between the IHBC, English Heritage, and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO). It covers annual surveys of the levels of expert advice available for building conservation and archaeology within local authorities, which have been collected consistently since 2006.

‘The relentless government cuts in conservation officer posts is putting our local historic buildings seriously at risk. If it continues at this pace for 20 years there will be no conservation officers left in England’ says new IHBC Chair Mike Brown.

‘One in four local authorities now have no conservation officer or, at best, have very limited part time advice. The scale of the cutbacks identified in this research means that we really must question the capacity of many local authorities to cope with even their statutory conservation duties.’

Local Heritage at Risk
Local authorities play a vital role in protecting England’s heritage. They are responsible, through the planning system, for making decisions on how places change and how heritage is protected and developed as part of that process. When a local authority does not have access to that advice, or that advice is stretched, then decisions are made that put local heritage buildings at risk, the planning process can be slowed down and decisions are taken without the full understanding of their implications.

‘We know local authorities face difficult choices in the current climate of cutbacks but decisions on what to keep and what to cut require far-sightedness and planning. Too many of these losses are being based on short-term populist decisions and hasty axing of conservation services as ‘unaffordable’ or ‘non critical’. We are at a crisis point where the capacity of the local authorities are becoming unable to cope with their statutory workload which has direct consequences for their customers and the community. In the past 12 months another 20 full time conservation posts have been cut.’ says Trefor Thorpe IHBC President.

Heritage as well as being of cultural and social value, is also a critical factor in sustainable economic development, business growth and job stability. Caring for and promoting our heritage supports society, helps economic growth and sustains tourism.

The IHBC is the principal professional body for building conservation practitioners and historic environment specialists working in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with connections to the Republic of Ireland.

For details on the benefits of and need for skilled conservation services, and to see why planning authorities must have conservation skills, see ihbc.org.uk/skills/england 

Download the report at: LINK

For the report in Planning see: LINK

For the IHBC see www.ihbc.org.uk

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