Historic Environment: Local Authority Capacity (HELAC)
The value of a well managed, protected and appreciated historic environment to both our quality of life and to the economy is well established. Heritage tourism contributes £20.6 billion to GDP a year whilst research shows that 93% of people think that in improving their local place it is important to save heritage assets. Proper care for traditional places generates high-skilled, environmentally friendly local jobs and activities that can underpin local economic recovery.
Local government is at the forefront of protecting and managing the historic environment. Be it through the planning system, or through supporting community involvement in local assets, councils care for and enhance local areas, stimulating interest and encouraging awareness of local heritage. In order to do that, it is important that they have access to the right advice and skills.
Budget reductions throughout the public sector mean that historic environment services are facing significant challenges in many places. The number of historic environment staff members working for local authorities fell by over 11% between early 2010 and early 2011. This decline was double the loss seen in the preceding year.
Beneath the familiar headlines of trying to do more with less, there is a need to look at how best to help services as they are faced with having to implement these significant cuts. The intention here is to identify different ways of working in an effort to sustain the levels of protection currently afforded to local heritage.
Against this backdrop the Local Government Association, the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, the Planning Officers Society and English Heritage have joined forced to work with local leaders in exploring different ways of working.
This initiative, Historic Environment: Local Authority Capacity (HELAC), has worked with five pilot areas, looking at different ways of delivering local historic environment services. The five pilot areas we have worked with are:
- Cheltenham District Council
- Chichester (West Sussex Councils)
- Cotswold AONB (Gloucestershire and Oxford Councils)
- Essex County Council
- Northumberland County Council
In addition to these areas, further areas also volunteered case studies. These are:
- Northamptonshire County Council
- South Hams District Council
- Cornwall Council
The results of this work can be downloaded as a summary report.
As local government is a key player in facilitating regeneration and economic development, and as the historic environment is such a positive asset to sustainable regeneration it is vitally important that an adequate core of conservation skills and experience can be retained or accessed by local government. The pilot studies undertaken for the HELAC project are innovative and encouraging but, there is a limit to what can be achieved through such innovations. There is a need to ensure that expert knowledge continues to be available to sustain the vital work of local authority historic environment services. The trend of reducing staff numbers mentioned above remains a cause of concern.