The guardians of our national heritage take various forms.  In Scotland the lead body is Historic Scotland, whilst in Wales it is Cadw and in England the new Historic England (formerly English Heritage) champions all that is special about our heritage. There is a common held belief that these organisations are about protecting nationally important heritage. All three proclaim this loudly in their mission statements and it is therefore hardly surprising that most people believe that these organisations are responsible for *protecting* the best sites in their respective countries. Sadly this could not be further from the truth.

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All three organisations are actually responsible for enabling development and change within the historic environment.  All three are paid for from the public purse and rely for their very survival on keeping their paymasters happy. The results of this relationship are inevitable and from time to time we have highlighted here on the Heritage Journal some of the apparently bizarre and contradictory decisions these organisations inevitably make.

Recently we heard of a prime example from Scotland which illustrates our point admirably.

A proposal to develop a large part of a designated heritage asset (a battlefield in this case) was submitted and Historic Scotland responded as you might expect by opposing the scheme.  The result was that the proposal was withdrawn. Hurrah! – this how the system is supposed to work. The developers however subsequently tweaked their scheme and re-submitted it. Despite the fact that there were now more buildings and the area to be destroyed was exactly the same, Historic Scotland now concluded that the development “would not have a significant impact on the battlefield landscape”.

So what was so different between the two proposals to justify this meteoric change? Apparently very little and most importantly the impact on the heritage asset under both proposals was the same – a substantial proportion would be destroyed. So why did the piper change his tune? The success of this development was a high priority for the Scottish Government, which of course funds Historic Scotland.  It would be a brave piper indeed who ignored the wishes of their master…

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This story was originally covered by “The Scotsman” but we now understand that despite Historic Scotland’s acquiescence with the annihilation of a place they had identified as being of national importance that the developers themselves have since withdrawn the scheme.