Policy Round-Up: December 2020
This month, we have been awaiting the outcome of the negotiations at the end of the Brexit transition period. At a meeting of the Heritage Council before Christmas, our Director General Ben heard from Rebecca Pow (Defra Minister) about the work underway to support agriculture after the end of the Transition Period on 31 December. Ben flagged the important role of privately owned historic estates in delivering the environmental improvements that the Government seeks from its new Environmental Land Management system (ELMs). The meeting also considered other Brexit-related issues relevant to heritage, such as the trade in labour and supplies and the future transfer of cultural property to and from the UK. We have been updating our Brexit advice pages for member houses, where you can find links to detailed guidance on employment, customs, inbound tourism, data and licenses.
December also saw the launch of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage in England. An additional £36 million of support is now available, and the new guidance confirms that historic house wedding venues that are not also visitor attractions are eligible to apply. Those who were successful in the first round can also apply to round 2, provided the application is for no more than half of the grant awarded the first time. In Scotland, a £104 million funding package for tourism and hospitality businesses will be launched in the New Year, following the recommendations of the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce. The Chancellor has also announced an extension of the furlough scheme until end of April 2021, and the Coronavirus business loan schemes until end of March 2021.
December has seen a flurry of consultation submissions flying off our desks, as we submitted important responses on planning advice, energy targets and weddings law. We have also been contributing to a new Historic England Advice Note throughout the past year, which aims to offer clearer advice on which works need Listed Building Consent. The document was opened for consultation last month, giving us the opportunity to feed in our final thoughts to make the advice as clear and concise as possible. We also responded to the newly proposed EPC targets for the private rental sector, which will require all rented properties to reach EPC band C by 2030. Along with a large group of heritage sector organisations, we have been strongly opposing these targets on the basis that they are not effective in achieving decarbonisation, they discriminate against rural and off-gas-grid properties, and they risk significant damage to historic buildings. Finally, we responded to the Law Commission’s review of wedding law, supporting their recommendations to allow open-air weddings, loosen the strict division between religious and civil weddings, and remove some of the regulatory burdens from licensed venues.
After coming out of a second national lockdown at the start of this month, on 19 December the previously announced five-day Christmas bubble period was reduced to one day for most of us, with no Christmas Day mixing in the newly formed Tier 4 in London and the South. This news came as a blow to families and hospitality businesses alike, and set an uncertain tone for the New Year. However, with the first vaccines being rolled out to the most vulnerable over the Christmas period, there is also hope that we may be reaching a turning point in the battle with the virus.
As we enter January, we are looking forward to a new start as we prepare for the challenges and opportunities 2021 will bring, and we wish our house members, visitor members and sector colleagues a very happy (and peaceful!) New Year.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team