Our current campaigns
What we're making the case for right now
At Historic Houses we aim to improve the legislative, policy and regulatory framework within which owners of historic houses look after the nationally important heritage in their care.
Planning and heritage protection policy impacts all of our 1,450 member houses, regardless of their size or activity, and continues to be one of the key priorities for our policy team.
Our campaigning recognises that, while robust heritage protections must be maintained, there is a clear rationale and scope for streamlining targeted elements of the planning and heritage protection systems to improve their efficiency and effectiveness: particularly in the midst of an energy crisis, and the time to reach net zero getting ever shorter. Targeted simplifications to the system affecting listed buildings could lead to savings in time and money for both applicants and local authorities, without impacting the protection of important heritage.
In the current system it is too often the case that overstretched local authorities and time-consuming bureaucratic processes can stand in the way of appropriate and sympathetic changes to listed buildings which would support their viable economic use and, crucially, the opportunity to address climate change. We believe strongly that a more enabling planning system – one which allows listed buildings to evolve through sensitive and carefully-managed change via a streamlined bureaucratic process – would have a positive impact on heritage protection, by ensuring these important buildings and places are able to access a viable economic use and sustainable future.
We support the work being done in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea through the introduction of Local Listed Building Consent Orders for some window works and solar PV panels, and would like to see greater use of Listed Building Consent Orders nationally on low-risk, energy-saving interventions.
Our work with government, politicians and partners across the sector focuses on developing simple reforms to the planning system which would make a real difference to our houses’ daily work looking after the heritage in their care. We work with civil servants and politicians across DCMS, DLUHC and DESNZ to make the case for these changes, and contribute to consultations or calls for evidence wherever possible.
The facts and figures behind our campaigns
The economic, cultural and social benefits of independent historic houses
Why our places matter
Download our latest key stats infographic to see what our member places contribute.
Reform planning legislation to allow listed buildings to pursue net zero
Heritage and net zero working together
Download our latest planning infographic to see the key findings from the Historic Houses member surveys.
Energy and Sustainability
The climate emergency is here, and is already wreaking havoc to aspects of our natural environment: whether it be heatwaves and droughts or cold snaps, flooding and storms, extreme weather is becoming more frequent, and with terrible consequences. Historic houses, big and small, need to adapt where they can to be better prepared to deal with the climate emergency.
Th UK’s housing stock (around 20%, or 1 in 5, were built pre 1919) is the oldest in Europe, and our draughty houses need to be retrofitted appropriately where possible to ensure that they are comfortable, warm homes. As things stand, many older buildings find themselves penalised by EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) requirements. These are useful tools for measuring cost and fuel poverty, but they were never designed as a tool for measuring genuine energy efficiency or carbon. The measures they recommend to improve the energy performance of buildings are often inappropriate for traditional or historic buildings.
As a result, the continued use of EPCs within the regulatory framework means that thousands of houses are at risk of being made illegal to let – further exacerbating housing shortages and resulting in a greater carbon cost. We are keen to see proper safeguards put in place to ensure historic and traditional buildings can continue to be used as much loved homes, and not excluded from the housing market because of their historic fabric.
The tax system is a key part of the policy framework affecting historic houses and gardens, and can have a hugely significant impact on independent owners’ abilities to fund the maintenance and conservation of these places people love to visit.
The majority of historic houses open to the public are not owned by national charities or government agencies; most of these much-loved visitor attractions are in fact owned by independent owners or small family businesses, with their upkeep and conservation funded through their owner’s financial resources. This means they can’t benefit from Gift Aid, access to grants, VAT relief or the other advantages of charitable status.
In normal times these places are already welcoming nearly 30 million visitors every year and generating more than £1 billion for the economy, but their inability to chip away at a conservation backlog of over £2.7 billion (this figure nearly doubled during the pandemic, from £1.38 in 2019) holds them back from doing and contributing more.
Practical, cost-effective improvements to the tax framework are essential to help custodians tackle the huge backlog of repairs these special historic places require. Having assessed a wide range of potential solutions to this conservation challenge, our evidence indicates that reforming Heritage Maintenance Funds (HMFs) would be the most cost-effective tool.
Improving Heritage Maintenance Funds
Our tax campaign calls on government to reduce income tax on Heritage Maintenance Funds (HMFs) to the basic rate (currently 20%), so that they can work harder for conservation and public access purposes.
HMFs are designed to enable nationally important historic houses that are open to the public to ring-fence funds (from their own resources) for maintenance. Inheritance tax on HMFs is deferred in order to enable more of the money in them to be devoted to the conservation of publicly accessible heritage. In their current form, however, with income tax on HMFs currently levied at 45%, HMFs are not being used to their full potential – just 8% of Historic Houses’ member places have one.
In 2019, Historic Houses published a comprehensive independent economic analysis to model the costs and benefits of reducing the income tax charged on HMFs to 20% or 0%. This analysis concluded that in both cases the benefits would outweigh the costs, however the 20% scenario delivered the most benefits for all stakeholders. The headline finding was that reducing the income tax rate on HMFs to 20% would result in a net economic benefit for the UK economy of £85.5 million by 2023.
We continue to work with government, politicians and stakeholders to highlight the benefits of reducing income tax on HMFs – for public access and enjoyment of nationally important heritage, for conservation and for the rural economy.
Benefits of reforming Heritage Maintenance Funds
Fit for the Future
How reforming HMFs will benefit everyone
Download our Fit for the Future infographic to see the key findings from the Historic Houses member surveys.
When changes could happen
Download our Tax timeline infographic to see the key findings from the Historic Houses member surveys.
We know that an entrepreneurial approach to heritage is often the only way to generate enough income to keep these unique places well looked after and open for the public to enjoy.