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Part of England’s heritage, Crickley Hill Camp. The Vale of Gloucester and the Malverns floating beyond
Image credit Heritage Action

A second strand of the government’s strategy to fill the funding gap (in addition to “encouraging philanthropy”) is evident in the interim version of English Heritage’s National Heritage Protection Plan.   The aim is to minimise the impact of the reduced funding by “a joint programme of action across the sector” and by “encouraging communities and individuals to take more responsibility for the management of their local historic environment” leaving EH concentrating on “those activities that only it can do effectively.”

So a new tone, a refreshing, albeit unavoidable commitment to more public participation and hence openness:  “a significant shift in the focus and nature of the activities carried out by EH”…. “continued and increased partnership working is vital”…. “need to consider specifically how public interest can best be stimulated and, where appropriate, directly engaged with”…. “capture and process perspectives from within and beyond EH.” If such aspirations actually translate into reality then something very positive will have come out of the funding crisis.

Not everything augers well from our point of view though. For one thing,  prehistoric places don’t appear anywhere in the quoted 15 most desired areas for protection expressed by the public and noted in the interim Plan so we hope EH will take a different view, knowing as they must, that prehistoric heritage is probably being lost at a faster rate than any other.

This is depressingly familiar too, let’s hope it’s just a case of inaccurate drafting: “Clarity. Where assets or landscapes are considered to be of national significance, this needs to be explained clearly so that everyone can appreciate how the conclusions have been reached.” Actually, where clarity has long been needed is not when EH say things are of national importance but when they say they aren’t!

A third concern we have is that when EH say the Plan involves empowering  “ local groups, communities and individuals” to protect the historic environment by giving them expert advice, technical support and even financial assistance, they really mean it. Would offering financial assistance to local groups “to influence the Local Development Framework produced by their local authority” have extended to helping the likes of the Friends of Thornborough fight North Yorkshire Council’s bizarre plan to allow vastly more gravel to be dug than the county could possibly need? (It would be nice to think so, because although the protestors lost, who can deny that events have now shown they were absolutely right?!)

Despite the above concerns (and a further specific set of definite gripes about the Plan that are best dealt with in a separate artic le) some very good things seem to be coming out of the disaster of a 32% funding cut – always providing the Plan works out in the way it is presented. Increased local awareness and empowerment and the Public as a watchdog over its own heritage has got to be the right way forward. Inspecting scheduled monuments every year or two? Joe Public can do rather better than that!

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