Policy Round-up: April 2019
April has been business as usual for your Historic Houses policy team, with Parliamentary meetings, conferences, consultation submissions and working groups galore!
We started off the month attending the second Annual Tourism Conference. Held during English Tourism Week on Monday 1 April, this lively event championed the fact that tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors in the UK. It was great to see so many MPs at the English Tourism Week reception in Parliament later that day, and to discuss all the house and garden visits that took place at Historic Houses member properties as part of both English Tourism Week and Scottish Tourism Month.
We’ve also been on the road beyond Westminster for much of April, developing new case studies and evidence to support key campaigns. We travelled to Muncaster Castle, Pitchford Hall, Scampston Hall & Gardens and Leighton Hall to film a series of short videos illustrating the difference a reformed Heritage Maintenance Funds regime could make to conservation and public access at historic houses across the country. We’re looking forward to showing these videos to MPs and stakeholders at the Parliamentary roundtable event we’re running in the House of Commons next month, and they’ll be available on our website in June.
As usual, we have also been busy drafting submissions to a host of consultations that could impact Historic Houses places. Top of the list this month have been the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry assessing the impact of business rates, the Government’s Tailored Review of Historic England, a survey on heritage security and the DCMS Select Committee’s inquiry looking at garden tourism. Gardens are a key asset to many Historic Houses places, and we have been delighted to work with the RHS on this consultation to put forward recommendations for how Government could support the development of garden tourism.
Alongside the positive news this month, there has also been a setback. One of the key issues for Historic Houses places – whether they open regularly, less often or not at all – is that of the time and money taken to secure planning and listed building consents; delayed, cumbersome and inconsistent decisions from local authorities can put the viability of the historic house and its future at risk, as well as wasting already stretched resources. In England, Historic Houses is part of the Historic Environment Planning Reform Group (HEPRG), a cross-sector body that has been working on developing innovative solutions that would help to make the planning system, and listed building consent, more efficient and consistent. We were very disappointed to learn this month that Historic England will not be supporting one of the key reforms that the group has devised. The D9 Independent Expert proposal would have allowed independent accredited experts to play a role in overseeing the application of Listed Building Consent for minor, non-damaging changes to listed buildings; with the final decision on all applications remaining with the Local Authority. The accredited status of the expert would have allowed the consent to be expedited at pace through the local authority, delivering efficiency benefits for both applicants and local authorities, without compromising heritage protection. We have raised this issue with Historic England, DCMS and sector colleagues as a matter of urgency, and we hope to work with Historic England over the coming months to ensure that similar reforms will go ahead. We will keep house members posted on this over the coming months.
Emma and Polly, the policy team