Chairman’s Speech to Heritage Day

Here follows the speech given by Heritage Alliance Chairman Loyd Grossman OBE FSA on Heritage Day on 6 December 2012.

 

THA HERITAGE DAY

6 December 2012

Loyd Grossman OBE FSA

Chairman

 

A warm welcome to all, what a wonderful turnout. It is a great pleasure to see so many.

Just a word on the history of Kent House since this is the first time we have held Heritage Day in a domestic building. When the original Kent House was built, Knightsbridge was a rough part of London, and a haunt of highwaymen.  The original house which was let by the Duke of Kent, 4th son of George III and father of QueenVictoria, was demolished in the 1860s and replaced with this in the 1870s. It went through various changes and is now the home of the Westminster Synagogue and a venue for events such as this. Opposite is Knightsbridge Barracks once voted by Country Life as the eighth worst architectural eyesore in the UK.

We are  delighted Ed Vaizey is with us. The last time he spoke at Heritage Day was when he was in Opposition so I am especially pleased he is here as Minister for Culture and recently added heritage to his portfolio.

I want to take you through some of the highlights, and unfortunately some lowlights too over the past year.

This time last year, when Simon Jenkins spoke, we were heavily involved in the National Planning Policy Framework. Quite a lot has happened since – the Localism Act has been passed and after  a heroic struggle by many organisations in this room and by the press, the National Planning Policy Framework recognised the value of the historic environment in the government’s definition of sustainable development.

A stream of further legislation continues through the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill and the Growth & Infrastructure Bill. I very much hope the debate around this legislation will highlight the value of our historic environment, but I still worry that there is an entrenched view in some parts of Government, not DCMS,  that heritage is not part of the growth strategy and a block on economic development.  Heritage assets are assets not liabilities.  They are one of the things that  makes this country worthwhile, good to live and invest in and to do business in.

The VAT campaign was painful and, admittedly, not entirely successful.   Our objective was to keep the zero rate for all building types and for all owners but the Treasury had already made up its mind. In the end, there were some concessions – on the transitional arrangements, and a huge injection for the Listed Places of Worship grant scheme – but the zero rate of VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings was lost irrevocably.

Nevertheless we learnt a great deal. We made use of social media, we made contact with numerous MPs, policy makers and opinion formers and it did help the heritage sector to work together and create a stronger sense of identity.

Philanthropy has been high on the agenda of DCMS this year. I am very pleased the current Secretary of State takes it as seriously as Jeremy Hunt. I am also glad that cultural philanthropy is now recognised as not being just about the arts or just about London. Advancing the philanthropy agenda will help heritage organisations, large and small, provided we can secure a policy that will help us with capacity building for smaller organisations rather than just enhancing the coffers of the usual suspects. It is important to be aware that although there are a number of very big players, we rely on small, voluntary-driven local organisations that reach very part of the country.

The Cultural Olympiad was successful for us thanks to the Discovering Places programme. Ian Lush andClaire Horandid a great job bringing benefits to many people.

Looking ahead we have some new projects. Engaging Places is an educational project holding a series of three masterclasses in York, Peterborough and London in the New Year.

We are also developing a web-based learning resource, called Discover Explore, to expand on the success of the Cultural Olympiad project.

We look forward too to the continuing success of Heritage Open Days.  This is the first year that HODs has been managed by the National Partnership comprised of The National Trust, Civic Voice and The Alliance. HODs staged a fantastic 4,500 events and attracted some two million visitors. We now have to find a sustainable financial footing for HODs when the EH’s transitional funding comes to an end in 2015. I am confident we will find a solution here.

In addition to these projects, I would like to highlight the work of the Advocacy Groups, Spatial Planning, Funding, Inclusion and Rural Heritage and thank the four Advocacy Chairmen and all the members who take part. I would also like to thank Trevor Cooper and Becky Payne who run our Historic Religious Buildings Group.  It is planning a seminar on the problems of large inner city places of worship, which is  generously supported by the architects Purcell UK.

We are working hard to develop closer relations with the academic community. There is a tremendous amount of research undertaken in universities relating to the heritage sector but we need to build a bridge between the academics and the ‘real world’, to use their research to feed into real world policies. We had a successful Forum at the Society of Antiquaries in September with leading organizations and practitioners, which will help us build a robust evidence base.

We will continue to develop Heritage Update, the single most important source of news for the sector. Thanks to Sam Bradley the Editor for taking this on from Emma Robinson. I am also delighted that the Country Houses Foundation is offering to further improve Heritage Update.

Alliance membership is robust.  Six new members this year exemplify the variety, excellence and excitement of what is going on in the heritage movement. They range from a local group, the Kemp Town Society; to national bodies such as Architects Accredited in Conservation; The Association of British Transport & Engineering Museums; Society for Church Archaeology; the first heritage research network to join us from University Campus Suffolk; and making an important connection with the tourism industry which is after all the fifth largest industry in the UK, ALVA  the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

I can announce today that the Canal and River Trust is our newest member. It is the third largest custodian of listed buildings in the country, after the Church of England and the National Trust, both of whom are already enthusiastic members of the Alliance.

These means that altogether, our 91 member organisations own, manage, or care for the vast majority of England’s heritage. Welcome to our new members.

Last year we launched our Strategic Plan up to 2015. It set out our ambition as the voice of the independent heritage movement to champion a strong independent heritage sector and to promote the value of heritage to all and to everyone who lives, works, invest in this country as well as those who  visit it. The heritage sector is extremely good at reacting to specific threats – that is its DNA. It was created to save things under threat. But we are not quite so good at creating a positive climate of opinion in order to give our heritage the long term security that it needs and that is something we going to work hard at. Heritage should, as I said before, always be seen as an asset not a liability , always seen as part of the nation’s growth story and one of the major contributors to national prosperity and well being no matter how that is measured.

Heritage has been hugely successful. The latest Heritage Counts gives us some very positive figures: admissions to heritage sites keep rising reaching an astonishing 62.4million visits to historic properties in England in 2011 – an increase of 28% over the decade; three quarters of adults in England had visited a historic site in the past 12 months; Heritage Open Days has more than doubled in size since 2002; and the National Trust’s membership – as another measure – has risen by 35% over the past decade. Heritage is doing very well by many measures.

We are told a great deal about how to succeed in a globalised world. Heritage is above all distinctive and  in a globalised world distinctiveness has value. If you watched the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, you could see how these sent out an easily understood message about  why this is such a fabulous country.  If you look at an icon such as the Tower of London it immediately conveys stability, tradition, civility, the rule of law as well as beauty, all of which are needed to build a prosperous future. These images were used successfully. Now part of our challenge is to sustain the use of that vision.

We wish a happy birthday to the Heritage Lottery Fund which is now just over eighteen years old. HLF has transformed the way heritage serves this country and we are very grateful not just for the billions it has invested in our heritage but also for the intelligent way that have  has done so.

Of course there are dark clouds on the horizon. We  worry about government investment in heritage. Direct investment in the form of, for example, the grant-in-aid to English Heritage and indirect investment in the form of tax breaks. I am still concerned over the cuts to which English Heritage has been subjected over the past 10 years. None of us can do our job to the best of our ability unless English Heritage is healthy and doing its job efficiently.  As a result, after the Autumn Statement yesterday, I am concerned about how the new cuts will be apportioned. I hope this time around, that heritage will not suffer swingeing cuts as it has in the past. We are also  concerned at the loss of specialist skills in local authorities which has dropped by over a quarter in the last six years. We would also wish to make a point to Government  that Heritage plays a valuable part in skills and training, how it supports and feeds into the tourism industry and also in the traditional crafts vital to small and medium sized enterprises in rural economies. Please would the Government bear in mind the role heritage plays in  fulfilling the skills agenda.

We staged an extraordinarily important debate about the nature of heritage and tourism in Cambridge and I am delighted that thanks to the enlightened sponsorship of Ecclesiastical we will be staging two more of those heritage debates in 2013. Please come along and information will be on our website.

Once again thanks to our members. You give us our strength. It is important that the whole of the heritage sector works together. We believe passionately in what we do and we do it extraordinarily well. We often feel we have no resources, but we nonetheless produce great results. But we do want government to create a more benign climate in which we can do our job even better and which will in turn bring greater benefits across the country.

My thanks to English Heritage, the HLF and  the National Trust. Special thanks to our sponsors Ecclesiastical and Country Houses Foundation who are a very generous resource to help us do the job we believe needs to be done. Thank you.

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KP

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