Blaby District Council no longer under special measures

After improvements which have been made to planning services at Blaby District Council, the former ‘special measures’ designation now no longer applies.

Blaby District Council writes:
Blaby District Council has been released from a Government ‘special measures’ designation following huge improvements in its planning services.

After it was designated as ‘poorly performing’ in November 2013, the Council’s planning service has transformed its performance and is now within the top quartile of local authorities nationally.

The Government sets a target of 13 weeks for major planning applications to be determined. Any planning authority that fails to determine 30% of all such applications within this target timescale will be placed in “special measures” which means major applications can be submitted direct to the Planning Inspectorate rather than being determined locally.

At the point that Blaby District Council was designated and placed in “special measures” only 18.18% of major applications had been determined within 13 weeks over a two year period. Blaby District Council was the only district authority to be designated under this performance regime.

Working in partnership with the Government and the Planning Advisory Service, Blaby District Council has implemented an extensive programme of improvements and, when reassessed in June 2014, 62% of major applications had been determined in time over a two year period. Using this simple measure, Blaby is now the most improved planning service in the country and one of the highest performing in Leicestershire.

Cllr Tony Greenwood MBE, Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Development and Housing Strategy at Blaby District Council, said: ‘When we were put in special measures we were at pains to stress that we  prefer to work proactively with developers to ensure a high quality development rather than focus purely on an arbitrary Government timescale.  The Council has stuck to its principals and continues to prioritise customer service and good development over speed. It’s now even clearer our approach is right; during the year of designation only one developer from approximately 50 major planning applications has chosen to apply directly to the Inspectorate rather than work with the Council.

‘The improvements in planning application performance combined with our up-to-date Core Strategy, an approved urban extension of 4,250 homes and our excellent customer relationships reinforce that Blaby is an excellent planning authority.’

IHBC newsblogs on planning performance

Press release

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DoENI relocation: Ebrington, redeveloped & refurbished

The new regional headquarters for the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland (DoENI) have now been established at a refurbished site at Ebrington.

The (DoENI) writes:
The Minister, along with DOE Planning Chief Fiona McCandless, has now relocated to Ebrington.  The new regional HQ will accommodate 25 people.

Commenting on the significance of the move Mark H Durkan said: ‘I am delighted that today sees the opening of a new regional DOE HQ in Derry. I will have a base here along with my support team and will be joined in these new offices by the Chief Planner, Mrs Fiona McCandless, her staff and DOE marine staff.’

‘On taking up office I pledged to move jobs to the North West in line with the Executive’s commitment to disperse civil service jobs as much as possible. The very fact that the Chief Planner operates out of Derry sends a clear message that top jobs can be based here. I intend to make it my business to see what other jobs might be based here and would urge my fellow Executive Ministers to follow suit.’

‘I am very pleased that we will be the first tenants of the newly re-furbished Ebrington site which has tremendous potential to become an important economic, cultural and social hub for the city of Derry. My move here is a vote of confidence in the site’s potential. I hope this will act as a spur to investors and others so that the site can be fully developed for the benefit of the people of Derry.

‘The transformation of this building is a reflection of the path Derry itself has taken – from siege and war to politics and peace.’

Responsibility for the management and re-development of Ebrington rests with Ilex urban regeneration company. Chief Executive Mel Higgins said: ‘This is great news. As tenants at Ebrington, DOE is bringing 25 jobs to the city and paving the way for future announcements about several other buildings on site. Plans are well advanced for a number of other buildings to be operational by the end of March 2015’. 

NI Gov news

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Welsh town centre regeneration funding allocation news

The Welsh Government has announced its allocation of funding for works to Merthyr Tydfil and clarified the importance of funding available through the Vibrant and Viable Places scheme.

The Welsh Government writes:
Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths, today spoke about her commitment to supporting Welsh town centres and announced a further £520,000 of regeneration funding for Merthyr Tydfil.  The funding will go towards the completion of five key projects including an extension of the Penderyn Square regeneration scheme, the creation of new office space and car park in the town centre, increased signage and improvements to the traffic system.

The Minister also spoke about how the Welsh Government’s continued investment in town centre regeneration is helping to revitalise high streets and create sustainable and vibrant communities across Wales.

Over £110 million is being invested through the Vibrant and Viable Places programme, which regenerates town centres and high streets by encouraging partnership working between the public, private and third sector. As part of this, £7 million is going to projects which tackle poverty in Wales’ most deprived town centres.

A further £1 million has been allocated to the Town Centre Partnership Fund which will help boost 20 town centres across Wales by funding projects to directly address local needs.  The Welsh Government’s commitment to the regeneration of high streets is also evident in its approach to developing Business Improvement Plans. To date, over £200,000 has gone to nine areas across Wales to develop towns and city centres by bringing together local businesses and communities to find ways of improving the local trading environment.

The Minister said: ‘I am delighted to announce a further £520,000 to help regenerate Merthyr Tydfil’s town centre and encourage more local people to visit the businesses and shops available on their doorstep.  I recognise our towns and high streets are facing a challenging time due to the increasing popularity of online shopping, out-of-town retail parks and people’s changing shopping habits. It is vital our local shops and businesses evolve and adapt to face these challenges head on, while our continued support is key to helping them thrive.

‘Last month we ran a campaign reminding people of the value of their high streets and encouraging communities to make full use of all the facilities they offer. During High Street Week, I met with business owners in Blaenavon and saw how they are working to develop, not only their business, but the town itself. I was hugely impressed by the transformation of the town and the passion shown by the local business owners was inspirational.’

Speaking in Plenary, the Minister reiterated her commitment to a cross-Government approach to supporting Welsh high streets. She said: ‘We will continue to take a whole Government approach to address the challenges facing our towns and city centres. I am continuing to engage with the Economy Minister about business rates support and what we can do bring the empty properties in our towns and cities back into use.  I am also continuing to work with the Natural Resources Minister with regards to the planning system and I welcome his announcement today of his intention to refresh the planning policy in Wales on retailing and town centres.  I see our high streets and town centres as a key priority for regeneration and the cornerstone of our communities.’ 

IHBC newsblogs on regeneration 

Welsh Gov news 

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RTPI publish strategic planning proposals for England

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) recently produced a policy note entitled ‘Strategic Planning: Beyond “Cooperation”’ dealing with ideas on cross-Authority working in England and suggestions for the roles and methods of Local Authorities, Central Government and Local Enterprise Partnerships in dealing with strategic issues such as regional housing provision and city regions economies.

The RTPI writes:
The RTPI has published proposals for strategic, larger-than-local planning in England. They draw on existing arrangements but require much stronger incentives to cooperation and making plans for the future.

Trudi Elliott, Chief Executive of the RTPI said: ‘Across many parts of the country and within many parts of society there is a growing recognition that many matters require effective agreement among local authorities if more and better homes and jobs are to be secured in the right places in the future. I commend the proposals to you.’

The RTPI believe these proposals can enhance better homes and employment in England:

  • Local authorities to form voluntary groupings in geographic areas of city-region or county scale
  • Local authorities in these groupings to agree housing numbers and other strategic matters in alignment with Strategic Economic Plans and City Deals
  • Central Government to drive this forward with strong but conditional incentives in transport, health and skills/education spending
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships to align economic growth plans with strategic housing provision plans

RTPI policy paper

RTPI news

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Green Flag Park award winner revealed

The winner of the public vote of the annual Green Flag park award has been crowned twice winner with a record number of votes: Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, London.

The Green Flag Scheme writes:
Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, London, has beaten off stiff competition to be crowned the UK’s favourite park in this year’s prestigious People’s Choice Award, with a record breaking 32,694 votes being cast.

In second place was Mote Park, in Maidstone, Kent. Whilst in third place was Margam Park, in Neath Port Talbot, South Wales.

In the vote, organised by the Green Flag Award scheme, which presents Green Flag Award status to the best open spaces in the country, Victoria Park came out on top against a staggering 1,482 parks and green spaces in the annual poll. The park has won the Green Flag Award on four occasions.

Victoria Park, now a two time winner of the People’s Choice Award, and also runner up in 2013, is London’s oldest and most important historic parks, visited by millions of Londoners for nearly 170 years.  The park is the largest in Tower Hamlets at 86.18 hectares in area and has one of the highest visitor numbers of all the London parks with around 12 million visits per year.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: ‘I am delighted Victoria Park has reclaimed its title as the UK’s best loved open space. It is our flagship park and a fantastic asset which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors and residents alike.’

Councillor Shafiqul Haque, cabinet member for culture, added: ‘The council works hard to ensure all parks and open spaces are maintained to an excellent standard and the borough has six Green Flag Award winning parks to be proud of. I would like to congratulate the parks team for their dedication and commitment as our parks provide essential recreation, play and leisure facilities.’

The park draws in more than 275,000 visitors a year to enjoy festivals and events which attract international superstars and boasts of a year round community programme.  Facilities at the park include children’s play areas, boat hire, both summer and winter football pitches, cricket practice nets, bowling greens and tennis courts, as well as several sports clubs.

Green Flag Award manager, Paul Todd, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see so many people voting in this year’s People’s Choice, showing their support and demonstrating how important and loved their local park or green space is. Congratulations to Victoria Park and all the staff and volunteers who work so hard in ensuring the park is not only a Green Flag Award winner but is now the UK’s favourite for 2014.’

Three and a half billion visits are made to parks every year across the UK and they are vital part of communities. The Green Flag Award is a way that the public can be assured they are visiting a clean and well managed green space.

The People’s Choice Top 10:

  • Victoria Park (Tower Hamlets) London Borough of Tower Hamlets
  • Mote Park (Maidstone Borough Council)
  • Margam Park (Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council)
  • Cassiobury Park (Watford Borough Council)
  • Kings Park (Bassetlaw District Council)
  • Whiteknights (University of Reading)
  • Bute Park (The City of Cardiff Council)
  • Clissold Park (London Borough of Hackney)
  • Valentines Park (Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure Ltd
  • Millennium Country Park (Marston Vale Trust)

IHBC newsblogs on historic parks and gardens

Press release

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IHBC NI Branch free networking & AGM: Belfast, 12 Nov

The IHBC NorIHBC NI Invitethern Ireland Branch is hosting a free networking opportunity for members, prospective members & colleagues, on Wednesday 12 November in Clifton House, Belfast, to include a Branch AGM.

Short talks will be offered by leading conservation architects Dawson Stelfox and Alastair Coey, while refreshments and canapes will help guests network and find out about opportunities to get more involved with conservation, and perhaps take on a role with the Branch. 

For more information on the day contact Kate Kendall at : LETS@ihbc.org.uk

View information on all the IHBC branches

IHBC newsblogs on Northern Ireland news

Download the invitation (click on Programe of Events)

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Another busy week for IHBC HESPR’s tender alerts: £71m+!

The IHBC’s support for its listing of corporate bodies that support the institute’s conservation standards, HESPR, now includes regular email alerts on relevant tender advertisements, and which this week sees a record £71,815,000 of specified costs for works notified to the institute’s HESPR members, a conservative figure as it takes minimum contract values and excludes works with no values specified.

IHBC’s Director Sean O’Reilly said: ‘We developed our listing of IHBC-recognised business services, HESPR, back in 2007 to help support our private sector members and their businesses.  Growth has been slow, often with our most ardent supporters – and volunteers – leading the way.  Now, with benefits such as our regular tender alerts, the dedicated pages in our Yearbook, as well as the high profile and credibility offered through any association with the IHBC’s strong brand, I’m confident we’ll see renewed interest in this high-end service, helped also by the fact that, like all the top-notch benefits in the IHBC, it comes at bargain basement prices.’

‘These new notices of tenders advertise opportunities to our HESPR members, but the data is collected also to record the breadth and scale of our members’ prospective interests.  The works advertised are very diverse, ranging from archaeological contracts to new build in historic areas – no less central a concern for any concerned conservation practitioner or civic volunteer – so of course not all tenders will be relevant to every HESPR member.  However, just as our NewsBlogs represent our member interests in their distillation of sector news, so too the circulated tenders represent the business interests of our members’ sectors in all their diversity.

‘And of course we’ll also be able use the data gathered in preparing the notices to help push our conservation agenda to government and policy makers.  With these figures they must better understand just how central conservation must become in policy development.’

IHBC Projects Officer Fiona Newton said: ‘Remember too that HESPR membership is open to any service provider that wishes to tie their corporate operations to the practice standards of the IHBC.  All that your business needs is a full member of the IHBC who is willing to link their personal professional obligations to the service standards of the company they represent.  That way IHBC member serves as its ‘Designated Service Adviser’, or DSA.  The DSA might be anyone from a sole trader in private practice to a staff member in a multi- with DSA responsibilities specified in the job description.’

Samples of tender notices

Visit HESPR 

Join HESPR

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SPAB/STBA energy efficiency conference inc IHBC CPD

The SPAB and STBA are holding a joint an energy efficiency conference in Carlisle on Friday 7 November, organised with the support of the IHBC North (NO) Branch, featuring prestigious speakers from the research and conservation practitioner communities and recognised by the IHBC as continuing professional development (CPD).

The IHBC’s North Branch has played an important role in organising the event – following on from their new business plan and associated targeting of training needs – while Branch Chair Jules Brown will also be welcoming delegates.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) writes:
This annual event brings together expert speakers from leading heritage organisations to present their latest research and discuss the most up-to-date thinking on how traditional buildings actually perform.

The SPAB have ourselves been carrying out research into energy efficiency in traditional buildings since 2009 and will present our latest findings at the seminar.

Following on from the success of previous years, there will also be an exhibition of retrofit products and systems that we believe are appropriate for use on traditional buildings.

The event is a must for anyone involved in traditional building retrofit or energy efficiency research, as well as any building professional, owner or contractor who wants to gain up-to-date research findings, thinking, products and information in order to upgrade and retrofit a traditional building sympathetically and appropriately. It is recognised for continuing professional development by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). We would like to thank the IHBC North branch for their help in organising this event.

SPAB’s energy efficiency reports  

Find out more about the work done by the STBA, including the Knowledge Centre and Guidance Wheel  on the website

Book a place at the conference online 

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New English Heritage Model formally announced

This week government announced changes to the workings of English Heritage (EH) and the creation of Historic England, with no changes to the former EH duties and powers of heritage protection and a new charitable trust to manage the former EH properties.

English Heritage writes:
The Government today confirmed plans, announced last year, to restructure English Heritage, investing nearly £90 million over the next few years. A new body to manage and promote the properties and sites in the National Heritage Collection, numbering more than 400, will be set up, retaining the name English Heritage, as well as a separate one, Historic England, to provide expert advice and act as a champion for the sector.

EH Chairman Sir Laurie Magnus writes:
I am pleased to let you know that, after a period of wide consultation, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, has today announced final Government approval for the separation of English Heritage into two organisations. ??A new charity, retaining the name English Heritage, will run the National Heritage Collection of historic properties. A newly-named non-departmental public body, Historic England, will be dedicated to offering expert advice, championing the wider historic environment and providing support for stakeholders in the heritage sector. The changes will come into effect on 1 April 2015. The Minister confirmed that the Government will provide additional funding of £88.5 million to invest in the National Heritage Collection. You can find the full details of the announcement on the DCMS website.

The English Heritage Charity will be responsible, under an operating licence from Historic England, for the care of the National Heritage Collection. Whilst all of its properties will remain in public ownership, it will be able to make the most of commercial and philanthropic opportunities. The additional Government investment will deal with urgent conservation defects and enable the upgrading of visitor facilities including the renewal of outdated displays. This will provide a better experience for visitors which will increase visitor numbers and grow membership. A summary of the business plan for the English Heritage Charity, which anticipates financial break even in 2022/23, has been agreed by Government and published today. We will shortly publish further details of where we plan to invest the additional funding from Government.

It was clear from the responses to the Government’s consultation on the New Model that there is a great deal of support for Historic England and a clear desire that it should continue to champion England’s heritage, providing expert advice, promoting constructive conservation and providing support with research, guidance and grants. No changes are proposed to our current duties and powers in planning and heritage protection. We are today publishing a draft of Historic England’s first Corporate Plan and we would welcome your views.

I am very pleased that Government has recognised that we need a level of security to give English Heritage and Historic England firm foundations for success. I therefore welcome the commitment in the Secretary of State’s letter to the success of the New Model and that this will be reflected in future Spending Reviews. I also welcome the guarantee that our grant from Government for 2014/15 and 2015/16 will be protected from any further cuts. This will enable us to concentrate all our efforts on giving English Heritage and Historic England the best possible start.

I shall remain Chairman of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, which will lead the work of Historic England and retain residual responsibility for the National Heritage Collection and for holding the Charity to account. The Charity will have a Board of Trustees, including myself, Sir Tim Laurence and various other Commissioners, but it will have a majority of independent members. We will advertise soon to recruit independent trustees. I am delighted that Sir Tim has been nominated as transitional Chairman elect of the Charity. His appointment is subject to ratification by the new Board of Trustees of the charity once appointed, at which point he will step down as a Commissioner.

Simon Thurley will continue to lead the process of establishing the New Model as English Heritage Chief Executive. However we will soon start the process of recruiting new Chief Executives for Historic England and the charity and, once these individuals have taken up their posts, Simon will stand down.

Simon has led a remarkable transformation of English Heritage over the last 12 years, culminating in the delivery of the New Model. He can justly be acclaimed as a major contributor, not only to our organisational development, but also to the heritage cause throughout England. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude. In the first half of next year Simon will be taking up a Senior Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research to write his book on the architecture of the Tudor and Stuart Court.

Mark Pemberton, our Director of National Collections, has decided, after 14 years of outstanding service, that this would be a good moment for him to step down following an appropriate period of transition. I am immensely grateful to him for all the work he has done to develop and execute the New Model.

Please let Simon or me know if you have any queries. We shall of course keep you informed of developments over the coming months. In the meantime, I hope that we can count upon your continuing support for the vital work we all do to ensure that England’s heritage is understood, protected and loved.

Further information on the changes can be found below:

EH news article and Chairman’s letter

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Planning freedom: DCLG reveal the effects

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has this month issued figures on how changes in the planning regulations have contributed to ‘getting Britain building’, with planning approvals at a 10-year high as authorities granted 350,200 permissions in the year to June – 2% higher than in the previous year. 

DCLG writes:
New figures today (2 October 2014) show for the first time how efforts to reform the planning system and cut red tape have enabled thousands of homeowners to make improvements to their properties, and have got Britain building.

Since last year, new permitted development rights have given people more power to extend their homes without having to apply for planning permission.

The move was part of wider reforms to help create a swift and responsive planning system – a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan.

Today’s figures show it’s working: in the 3 months to June, councils across the country received 7,700 applications for home extensions – 6,500 of which got the go-ahead without needing to go through the whole planning process.

The figures also show how permitted development measures to enable redundant office buildings to be turned into new homes are also being taken up, with 1,100 applications received by councils in the last quarter and 900 approved during the same period.

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said: ‘Today’s figures show how thousands of homeowners are now able to make improvements to their properties without having to negotiate excessive red tape and bureaucracy. On top of this, offices that once stood empty have been transformed to help deliver much-needed new homes for communities while maintaining green belt protections.’

‘All this is part of our wider planning reforms, which have helped put power back in the hands of councils and communities to have a real say over how their area is developed – meaning planning approvals are now at a 10-year high.’

‘The move to increase permitted development rights has helped deliver new homes while at the same time protecting the green belt – and has freed up planning officers to process more planning applications for larger schemes.’

‘Today’s figures also show planning approvals at a 10-year high, with authorities granting 350,200 permissions in the year to June – 2% higher than in the previous year.’

UK Gov news

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NHTG Heritage Helpdesk launched

The National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) has launched a new heritage helpdesk this week, with a telephone and email service designed to help offer traditional building skills support.

NHTG writes:
The NHTG is pleased to announce our new home at offices in the historic mining town of Clay Cross, Derbyshire, from where we will operate a new Helpdesk facility. The Helpdesk will initially run three days a week and will offer traditional building skills support, information and guidance across the whole of the UK and beyond!

This Helpdesk is a critical part of our strategy to qualify those working in the historic built environment. Traditional building skills are vitally important to the sustainability, viability and vitality of the UK’s old buildings. It will support the NHTG website which already offers a comprehensive Online Information Centre and Training Provider Database giving access to a wealth of information and guidance on craft skills, training, qualifications and courses.

Administrator and Helpdesk Manager Sophie Keegan will operate the Helpdesk three days per week and will support the work of the General Manager, Cathie Clarke. Day-to-day NHTG activities are driven by strategic objectives with support and guidance from the enthusiastic, passionate and highly experienced individuals who comprise the NHTG Board.

Our digital Information Centre offers details of over 120 training providers and heritage building skills Resources. This facility is being constantly updated and the organisation is working hard to make it as efficient, comprehensive and as accessible as possible, to offer the best information about heritage and sustainable building skills training across the UK.

Helpdesk Telephone: 01246 252363

The NHTG Helpdesk can be accessed Tuesday – Thursday 9.30-12.30 and 1.00 – 3.00 p.m. There is an ansaphone facility outside of these times and we aim to respond to all calls within 5 working days. We can also receive email enquiries regarding heritage skills training and events via info@the-nhtg.org.uk, or you can use the contact form on the website: www.the-nhtg.org.uk/contact-us/ 

NHTG news

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EH’s tribute to Sir Jocelyn Stevens

English Heritage (EH) has issued a tribute to their former Chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who passed away on 12 October. 

English Heritage writes:
Sir Jocelyn may have been an unlikely choice of Chairman for English Heritage, but no-one could have turned out to be a greater heritage champion.

He was a famously hands on, eight-day week chairman, generating ideas and making things happen from dawn till dusk…. and later still. He was truly the best kind of establishment ‘irritant’, never taking ‘no’ for an answer if he felt the cause was right. He turned the organisation upside down during his eight-year term of office but when asked about his legacy, he said he felt he had merely made a footprint in the sand as far as reforming the organisation was concerned. He hoped he would be more enduringly remembered for the marks he had left on the brick and stone of England.

Some of those marks can be seen in the restoration of The Albert Memorial, the rescue of Down House where Charles Darwin lived and worked, the refurbishment of Eltham Palace, the restoration of Wellington Arch and the innovative conservation of Wigmore Castle which stabilised the building but left it an ivy-clad romantic ruin with brambles rather than railings to keep visitors away from the dangerous parts. He also created the nation’s first-ever register of Buildings at Risk on which the BBC TV Restoration series was based.

He was one of the first to see that the historic environment adds to the quality of everyone’s life and was as likely to be found talking to residents in historic Brixton as the owners of our grand stately homes. He saw heritage in our High Streets as well as our Highgroves and his enthusiasm was completely contagious for those who encountered him.

Of course, his great passion was always Stonehenge. He firmly believed that both visitors and the Stones themselves deserved better than the 20th century clutter that surrounded them. His tireless campaign kept Stonehenge on the conscience of the nation, convincing the Government that something must be done and thus laying the foundations for the transformation finally achieved last year.

He was truly a fearless, heritage hero. 

EH press release

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Help shape HS’s Heritage Management Service

Historic Scotland (HS) has launched a new online survey inviting views on the performance and future of their heritage management service, with a deadline for responses of 4 November.

Historic Scotland (HS) writes:
Heritage Management is the part of Historic Scotland that provides advice to planning authorities, developers and others on the potential impacts of development on the historic environment. We have responsibility for designating different types of structures and sites, such as listed buildings or scheduled monuments. We are also a statutory consultee for some consents and are the consenting body for applications for scheduled monument consent.

Are there things we could do better, do more of, do less of? What are we good at, less good at? What do you think should be our priorities? You can help us shape the future of Historic Scotland’s Heritage Management service by taking part in this survey. your answers are anonymous and no individuals will be able to be identified.

There are 26 questions and the survey will take around 10-15 minutes to complete. It will close on 4 November. Please also feel free to pass it on to other colleagues to take part.

We will publish a summary of the results of the survey on our website with suggested actions early in 2015.

If you have any questions about this survey please contact 0131 668 8716 or hs.heritagemanagement@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Access the survey

Historic Scotland heritage management

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