Policy Round-up: June 2020
Image: Easton Hall, demolished in 1951
For Historic Houses, June usually heralds the start of AGM season, when we look forward to the opportunity to travel across the UK to reconnect with our house members in every corner of the country. This year has of course been slightly different, but we have nevertheless been keeping in close touch with our members via our daily emails, our online discussion forums, and a series of webinars to guide house members through the reopening period.
On 19 June, the UK’s official Covid-19 alert level was downgraded from four to three, and in England some relaxations to strict lockdown conditions were permitted. Later in the month we learned that from July, tourism and hospitality businesses – including tourism attractions, holiday accommodation and cafes – would be permitted to reopen in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We fed into draft government reopening guidance for England and Scotland, and have contributed to the culture and tourism roadmap in Wales, where we expect a review of restrictions on 9 July.
This month we also hosted a series of webinars on gardens and accommodation to help guide our members through the reopening period, and share the experiences and practices of members who are in the process of reopening. In addition to our ongoing policy and business support guidance, we have also launched reopening advice pages for our house members, which summarise all the latest policy developments for the tourism and hospitality sectors.
On weekly calls with the Heritage Minister, our Director Ben Cowell has been raising the ongoing issue of a roadmap for the return of wedding events, in England in particular (other parts of the UK are further ahead on this). Announcements have so far focused on small wedding ceremonies, rather than wedding events, which are still not permitted even though dates have been set for the reopening of pubs and restaurants. This poses a major stumbling block for the weddings industry, which is relying on the remainder of the summer season to recoup the huge losses suffered during the lockdown period.
In Scotland, we have sought clarity on the precise number of people permitted to attend weddings, how to manage guests in large self-catering properties, and the procedures for guests who fall ill whilst staying in a holiday property. Last week, our Scottish Chair Andrew Hopetoun was joined by several of our Scottish house members to put some of these questions to Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy. Mr Ewing heard very clearly the need for the Scottish government to provide a message of reassurance before lockdown restrictions for tourism and hospitality start to ease in Scotland on 13 July, and the need for ongoing financial support for the Scottish tourism industry to survive – a critical issue which we also highlighted in our response to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee earlier in the month.
As June gave way to July we heard that the prime minister will be setting up a new planning initiative – Project Speed – in order “to scythe through red tape and get things done”. We expect a White Paper in July setting out plans for comprehensive reform of the planning system in England, and a Local Recovery White Paper detailing how the UK government will work with places across the UK to build a sustainable economic recovery, invest in infrastructure and legislate for wider de-regulatory reforms. It remains to be seen exactly how these reforms will impact Historic Houses places, but we will be sure to promote the role of our members in boosting rural prosperity, and press for measured planning deregulation throughout the process.
Lastly, on 23 June we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Gowers Report, which can be credited with the survival of the historic country houses we represent today. The report, led by Sir Ernest Gowers, was published in June 1950 and concluded that the owners of the nation's country houses served as their best custodians, and must be supported to ensure the survival of these iconic places. We are committed to holding a rescheduled symposium in some form next year, but in the meantime you can listen to our anniversary lecture and learn more about the report here.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team