Our heritage is facing a crisis

The owner of an historic Peak District home is backing warnings that Britain’s heritage system is in crisis.

Sir Richard Fitzherbert, of Tissington Hall and Estate, is helping to launch the Country Land and Business Association (CLA)’s new vision for reforming England’s heritage system.

In a new CLA report, titled: “Averting Crisis in Heritage: A CLA Report on Reforming a Crumbling System” the rural watchdog slams the current system of heritage management – which it describes as “dysfunctional”.

CLA members manage more than a quarter of all listed buildings in England and Wales and more than half of all monuments – plus huge amounts of other designated and undesignated heritage such as the “everyday” heritage of houses, gardens, barns, mills and ancient earthworks.

Sir Richard has 40 listed properties in one of the most visited parts of the country – the Peak District.

He said: “Some of my properties are over 300 years old and they need sympathetic restoration and conservation. On the Estate we are trying to preserve these wonderful buildings but, too often, we come up against a raft of regulations that not only make the process onerous but expensive, and I feel that there ought to be a better and easier way to safeguard these buildings. More rules, as suggested by the government, make this more cumbersome and more difficult.”

Confirming the problem, Ashbourne based CLA East Midlands director Andrew Shirley, said: “It has been clear for many years that the system is not working as it should be. Many local authorities simply don’t have the skilled conservation staff that the existing heritage system demands, and the government and English Heritage don’t seem to have grasped the extent of the problem.”

The CLA’s recommendations could, said Mr Shirley, create a system that would work in practice by allowing owners to focus limited resources on the areas where they would have most effect.

“We don’t necessarily want fewer restrictions – just better ones that will make desirable change easier and undesirable change more difficult.”

The government also comes under fire because of its proposed Heritage Bill, which the CLA says is too complicated and because the Department for Culture, Media and Sport believes that heritage is mostly paid for by government.

“This is simply not the case. In most circumstances conservation works are funded entirely by the owners. The government takes far more in tax from those who visit and support our heritage than it contributes.”

The CLA points out that English Heritage’s new 2011 “National Heritage Protection Plan” will divert resources and attention from the real problems by focusing on research into designating new areas of heritage.

One of the recommendations in the CLA paper calls for changes to the punitive VAT regime which places 20 per cent VAT on repair work to listed buildings.