In Saturday’s Yorkshire Post our Chairman Loyd Grossman OBE FSA wrote on the value of our heritage as a tool to support growth. See the full article online here.
“Successive governments have claimed to appreciate the full social, economic and cultural value of our heritage. Yet, despite plenty of hard evidence of such benefits, one of our greatest national assets has come to be regarded by governments as a liability and a brake on economic growth.
This perception could not be more wrong, or more out of step with public opinion. All over the country people care passionately about their historic environment. Some 93 per cent of adults agree that “when trying to improve local places it is worth saving their historic features”. Last year saw a rise in membership figures for heritage groups at a time when people are tightening their belts. Around five million of us in Britain are members of heritage organisations – that’s around 10 times as many as are members of political parties – and around 450,000 of us volunteer our time to look after the historic environment.
Heritage isn’t just a crucial part of our wellbeing, enjoyment and sense of place. It’s also a vital part of our economy.
The tourism sector – driven by our heritage – is Britain’s third-largest export earner, worth around £115bn a year to GDP and supporting around 2.6m jobs, and heritage remains the most cited reason for people to visit Britain. York is a fantastic – but by no means isolated – example of the heritage economy in action; a thriving, dynamic city whose prosperity is driven by its heritage-led offer.
And heritage is also the key to regenerating communities in need of housing, office space and community services. Figures tell us one in four businesses see the historic environment as an important factor in deciding where to relocate and listed office space can generate a higher level of total return than office property overall. Every pound invested in the historic environment directly contributes on average an additional £1.60 to the local economy over a ten-year period.
Manningham Mills in Bradford, once the largest mill in the world, now houses flats, a conference space and a community centre. The Sheffield Cultural Industries Quarter and the Richmond Town Heritage Partnership Scheme are also inspiring examples of the sustainable reuse of beautiful, functional buildings and spaces. With the Prime Minister backing small businesses as a key block in the rebuilding of our economy, these stories of successful heritage-led regeneration projects should be music to ministerial ears. So why, with our heritage continuing to deliver multiple benefits to people and places, do our governments still fail to recognise and harness its full potential?
In treating heritage as an after-thought in policy-making – most notably through the controversial draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), I believe the Coalition is missing out on a key way to deliver prosperity. Building more homes does not need to be achieved at the expense of protecting our heritage assets.
The Historic Environment chapter of the NPPF is welcome, yet the protections it provides seem trumped by an overriding “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. The Government must realise that our heritage can provide the foundation for growth. Such growth should be smart growth – in the right place, for the right reasons.
As recommended by two Parliamentary Select Committees, the definition of sustainable development must be redrafted to restore balance. There can be no reason for delay on this. The Prime Minister has already confirmed in a letter to the National Trust that he believes “sustainable development has environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension, and we fully recognise the need for a balance between the three”.
While I support the streamlining of complex planning policy, the extreme brevity and loose wording of the NPPF has led to widespread confusion amongst planning professionals, members of the public, and Parliamentarians, leading to allegations the final document will be a “lawyer’s charter” open to disparate interpretation. What good is a shorter guidance document if planners and local residents find no clear guidance in it?
I would urge the Government to re-draft the document to provide adequate detail and clarity, and consider carefully the Communities Select Committee’s sensible recommendation that officials “should not make a fetish of how many pages it is”.
There are positive elements in the NPPF – its “town centre first” approach and its focus on good design, for example – but as it stands the document represents a significant dilution of protection for our irreplaceable heritage assets.
Working with stakeholders to effect a minor re-draft of this important document would give the Government the chance to reaffirm its commitment to rebalancing the economy on a long-term basis, while making the most of our heritage as a valuable tool in support of this. For the sake of Britain’s long-term economic, social and cultural interests, I do hope they take it.”