Planning and the Historic Environment 2002

An Agenda for the 21st century – 17 May 2002

Resourcing Historic Environment Services: Is less really more ?

Gill Chitty

 

Hawkshead Archaeology and Conservation

 

A recent survey of local authority resources for historic environment conservation

shows a picture of declining staff and financial resources, increasingly varied

organisational arrangements, and a growing range of cross-sectoral approaches to

conservation. The historic environment is encompassed in new economic, social and

educational initiatives, its conservation is justified as a key element in regeneration

and community programmes and above all it offers people a sense of belonging to and

caring about their locality. Working in conservation, we apparently have fewer

dedicated resources but more access than ever to new funding programmes and

opportunities for partnership. Can the trend towards less resource be reversed to

deliver more for the historic environment ?

 

Last October English Heritage commissioned a rapid study into the resources that are

available for local authority work in conservation of the historic environment. It was

designed to complement a research study into the resources generally available for

planning authorities commissioned by DTLR (now ODPM) from Arup Economics

and Planning. The context for both studies is the Government's commitment to

improving both the responsiveness of the planning system and the quality of its

outcome; and to reviewing the whole way in which the planning system works locally

and regionally. The Arup research was published in February as 'Resourcing of

Planning Authorities', with a summary of the English Heritage study findings (Arup

Economics 2002). The English Heritage study, based on the research carried out

jointly by David Baker and myself, is published under the title of 'Heritage Under

Pressure' on the English Heritage Web site ( www.englishheritage.

org.uk/heritageunderpressure ).

 

The intention was that the outcomes of both studies should usefully inform both the

Green Paper on Planning, now published as Planning: Delivering a Fundamental

Change, and the forthcoming Public Spending Review 2002; and to that end they were

both submitted to the DTLR in November 2001. It is difficult to say now whether

either study was successful, or indeed sufficiently timely, in influencing thinking in

relation to either. But the project - in setting out to provide a perspective on resources

in the historic environment sector as a whole - has certainly raised issues that are

germane to today's subject. This paper presents an overview of the findings of the

research and the issues that it raises for the new century's agenda.

Knowing about resources is only useful if you can connect the resource - the amount

of money available or the number of listed buildings designated or the number of

people employed in conservation - with the results that they produce in the

environment, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the scale of need. Finding out

what resources are available for historic environment conservation in local planning

authorities is one matter. Measuring how effective these are and whether they meet

needs are quite different questions. What are the benchmarks for performance? And

what are the outcomes of those public services in terms of the historic environment -

its sustainability and its value for people?

 

We began by undertaking a high level benchmarking exercise ourselves to define the

core tasks of a local authority conservation service. The main sources for this were the

former Department of National Heritage’s guidance to local authorities on

conservation provision (issued for local government reorganisation in 1995) and

information from a number of Best Value exercises. We then looked for sources of

information about provision along two axes: first resources, both in the local planning

authorities and supporting them; and secondly, conservation services and

performance.

 

RESOURCES

There are plentiful sources of information about particular conservation resources:

studies, surveys and assessments commissioned and carried out by English Heritage,

by IHBC, by ALGAO, by IFA, by the CBA, SAVE, the Statutory Amenity Societies,

by bodies like the National Trust, by research students, universities, and above all by

local authorities themselves. Appendix 3 to the published report provides details of

those that were consulted. Sources that provide a more general picture across the

whole conservation sector are few. There is the excellent Heritage Monitor, now even

more useful in its new form (but the most recent issue sadly not available at the time)

which covers headline data on various kinds of outputs like numbers of listed

buildings, numbers of Conservation Areas (Hanna 2000, Baxter, 2002). DTLR /

ODPM itself publishes quarterly statements of the numbers of planning applications

and listed building consents determined per authority. The Chartered Institute of

Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) collects annual forecast and actual spend

statistics from local authorities under a large number of headings, for all local

authority services and with some analysis according to head of local population. For

the past few years in the CIPFA Planning and Development statistics, a separate

section has been compiled for 'Conservation of the Historic Environment'. This

appears to be the only source available for overall expenditure on conservation in

local authorities and the graphs and statistics provided below are based on this data.

As Figure 1 shows, the distribution of resources for conservation between different

types of authority has changed through the 1990s as the result of local government

reorganisation. The trend has been towards decline in county and non-metropolitan

 

Figure 1: Net local authority expenditure on historic environment conservation, 1996-

2000 (uncorrected for compound inflation estimated at 15% over the last five years)

 

districts and some increase in unitary authorities, as illustrated. Analysis for the main

planning resource study by Arup Economics and Planning showed the same picture: a

marked decline in county authority spend on all environmental and conservation

work, it also shows that in the unitary authorities (where one could have expected to

find some compensatory increase) resources and staff numbers have declined. The

Arup study found that in order to achieve levels of resources equivalent to those for

1996/7, there would need to be increases of 37% for unitary and district authorities

and 23% for county authorities.

 

Effectively the amount spent by local authorities on historic environment conservation

has stood still and depending on how you calculate it, net expenditure on historic

environment conservation by planning authorities has declined by 8% - 15% in real

terms over the last five years. We have not then been imagining that things have been

getting tougher.

 

There are other indicators. CIPFA figures for actual spend on conservation staff show

an even greater decline in resources. This was lower in 2000 than it was in 1996.

 

Figure 2: Net local authority expenditure on staff for historic environment

conservation, 1996-2000 (uncorrected for compound inflation estimated at 15% over

the last five years)

 

While there are reservations about the consistency and value of the CIPFA data, and

like all statistics they can be presented to demonstrate different things, they do have

the virtue of being reasonably inclusive. When you try to get behind these overall

statistics on resources, the divided character of the sector begins to emerge. For

archaeology there are several studies of employment and surveys of numbers of

archaeologists working in planning and local authorities, and there are published

annual reviews of jobs in archaeology (e.g. Aitchison and Dennison 1999). There

 

Figure 3: English Heritage conservation grant expenditure 1995-2000 (corrected to

take account of inflation over the period)

 

were no equivalent studies for conservation officers. This has to be qualified; there is

now the work being carried out by Oxford Brookes University for English Heritage.

The statistics that Bob Kindred has maintained over the years for his authority in

Ipswich and for the wider picture were immensely valuable for the study (Kindred

2001a, 2001b). One way of cross-cutting to assess resourcing was to look at the

number of new posts in conservation that English Heritage has supported over the last

five years. We found that overall about 100 posts - conservation officers and planning

archaeology officers - have been supported albeit with tapering funding by English

Heritage since 1996. There are numerous other posts that have also been created in

local authorities with English Heritage funding to support historic landscape

 

Building & Monuments Conservation Areas Churches Cathedrals Archaeology Other

characterisation work, conservation area character appraisals, Historic Environment

Regeneration Schemes (HERS), urban archaeology and conservation projects. It is a

striking fact that even with this additional resource, local authority spend on staff for

conservation overall is still dropping.

 

What about English Heritage grant expenditure overall? The picture here reflects a

similar decline. As Figure 3 shows, English Heritage grants have dropped by 23% in

real terms over the period. Information was not available as to how much of this

resource went to local authorities and how they have fared in relation to other calls on

English Heritage's purse. Turning to look at local authority grants, we find a steady

decline in grants from their own funds but a more or less sustained growth in grants

from funds of other bodies (including English Heritage) which have steadily

overtaken the resources that local authorities can find themselves (Figure 4). The high

figures for 99/00 and 00/ 01 are probably due to special funding for millennium

projects. This trend begins to illustrate the issue about 'less being more'. Increasingly

local authorities obtain the resources they need to make environmental improvements

happen from complex packages of funding and schemes in partnership with other

bodies: European programmes and projects, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), agrienvironment

schemes, New Opportunities Fund, Regional Development Agencies

programmes, the private sector. Small amounts of officer time injected into initiatives

taken forward by others, by building preservation trusts, community action groups,

and in regeneration programmes can draw down significant resources. We found it

difficult to assess the contribution made by resources from partnership in the overall

conservation picture. But an interesting indicator was that where a local authority's

resources were overstretched they were least likely to be able to take the opportunities

for levering in funding through partnerships without distorting the delivery of primary

services. This is reflected in low take up, for example, of HLF schemes for enhancing

local historic environment records, with the most successful bids tending to come

from authorities that are already reasonably well resourced.

 

Figure 4: Local authority grant expenditure 1996 - 2001 (uncorrected for compound

inflation estimated at 15% over the last five years)

Modest amounts of investment can lever in significant returns for the historic

environment. As The Heritage Dividend (1999) study shows, 10,000 of English

Heritage investment can lever in up to 48,000 of match funding from other

resources, delivering new jobs, economically valuable property assets and improving

the quality of the environment. The same holds true for local authority resources if

they can be used in this strategic way. What is disappointing is that there is at the

moment no systematic way of demonstrating the enormous value that small amounts

of local authority resource can realise when used in this way.

For archaeology, there have been some attempts to assess the PPG16 dividend. Most

recently Kenneth Aitchison's study of funding for professional archaeology estimated

that in the year 2000, there was 68.3m investment by private developers in

archaeological projects. In the same year spend on local authority archaeology

services was estimated at 19.8m which, recalculated, means 10k of local authority

funding releases 34k of private sector funding (Aitchison 2001). While the basis for

calculating this is perfectly sound, this overall figure of 100m spend on

archaeological work looks extraordinary if it is set against a total local authority spend

on historic environment conservation for the same year of 42.6m, according to

CIPFA statistics. This kind of comparison is simply not valid, we are not comparing

like with like, but because we have no shared framework for gathering this data

0

2,000,000

4,000,000

6,000,000

8,000,000

10,000,000

12,000,000

14,000,000

16,000,000

18,000,000

1996-

97

1997-

98

1998-

99

1999-

2000

2000-

01

Grants from local

authority own funds

Grants from funds of

other bodies

 

systematically the outcome is a situation that can appear even more divisive. No

research has yet been carried out to assess the considerable investment in historic

environment conservation from the private sector

 

CONSERVATION SERVICES AND PERFORMANCE

Turning now from resources to services we see an opposite picture - not of a steady

decline but of a steady increase in conservation-related casework, and in its diversity

and complexity. These are pressures that affect the planning system generally. There

has been a 26% increase in the number of planning applications since 1996 (Arup

Economics and Planning 2002, 44). This kind of pressure raises important

organisational issues about prioritisation of workloads, and balances between longterm

and short-term objectives and between statutory and non-statutory functions.

The study shows that up to a third of all applications dealt with by a Local Planning

Authority can require specialist advice on historic environment considerations -

including historic building, historic areas, urban design issues and archaeology.

According to government figures, it appears that only about 7% of all planning

applications are for works that require Listed Building Consent and Conservation

Area Consent (DETR 2000). However this figure is deceptive since it relates only to

applications that have been notified to the Department. It does not include those

planning applications that require specific historic environment consideration

advertised under Sections 67 and 73 of the 1990 Act as affecting the setting or

character of a listed building and conservation area (Kindred, 2001a). In more realistic

terms, the percentage can range from 11 - 30% although further research that would

provide a definitive answer is lacking. In additional there are a large number of cases

with design and urban design issues in historic centres that can benefit from the input

of conservation expertise. About 11% of planning applications also receive appraisal

for their potential archaeological implications, with 2% receiving further detailed

assessment.

 

Research shows that this reactive and demand-led casework receives priority in most

local authorities. Grant-aided schemes that lever in additional funding are also

prioritised. With resources under pressure, engagement in more long-term work, such

as enforcement, Buildings at Risk cases, compiling Local Lists or appraisal and

enhancement schemes, receives very low priority. We found that at least a quarter of

authorities had never kept a Register of Buildings at Risk and many of those compiled

have never been updated. We found that two thirds of authorities wished to maintain a

Local List but only around a quarter had been able to do so. Similarly we found that

only about a quarter of SMRs had been able to verify the continuing existence and

condition of the sites and buildings recorded in their Records.

 

The way in which a local authority organises its services can create obstacles to

implementing wider strategies and effective working. Conservation services may be

co-located with planning services, or may be based in another service area, or may be

obtained from outside the planning authority. We can expect the diversity of this

picture to increase. We found that strategic supporting services tend to be more

strongly represented in county and lead authorities serving several district and unitary

authorities. Typically, these larger integrated services are based outside the planning

authorities directly responsible for development control and local services, potentially

giving rise to greater problems of communication. Reorganisation of services can

fragment provision unless positive measures are taken to ensure integrated working.

This was an outcome of local government reorganisation in 1996, and it will be an

issue again for the inevitable changes that will accompany the introduction of regional

governance.

 

Virtually no systematic monitoring of the condition of historic assets or of the

outcome of listed building and conservation area consents is taking place so we know

very little about the quality and effectiveness of this aspect of the planning process.

Consistent measures to provide indicators for assessing the quality of conservation

service performance and of the changing state of the historic environment in general

are lacking for all aspects. The Best Value inspection process has brought this sharply

into focus. Again for archaeology - because there is a smaller scale of casework and

also due to the way in which PPG16 has been implemented - there is relatively good

year on year data about the numbers of cases and outcomes of consents with

conditions (Darvill and Russell 2002). The implications of monitoring listed building

consent casework in the same way that conditions for archaeological work are

scrutinised cannot be quantified. At present we cannot assess even at the highest level

what kinds of changes to the historic environment are taking place through the LBC

process. There are statistics for demolitions and these show a steady decline. The

Council for British Archaeology has looked at using its Listed Building notification

database as a way of charting changes in a more discriminating way but the enormous

variation in local authority practice in notifying the statutory amenity societies would

not support a systematic study.

 

At the crudest level, the DTLR statistics show that LBC applications take longer to

determine than most other planning applications but that more of them are approved.

There are several theories about why this should be the case. What is clear from this

study, however, is that the poor quality of information accompanying applications is a

significant reason for delays: both English Heritage and local authorities have

substantiated this. Another issue is that the planning system makes no allowance for

the differing complexities of types of application and, as cases with an historic

environment dimension are typically more complex in terms of design and impact

assessment, they will tend to require more time.

 

Finally, the inadequacy of information and communication networks is a theme that

runs through all these issues. These are fundamental to integrated working and

informed decision-making. The limitation on resources affects important targets for

achieving e-government by 2005, inclusive access to public information,

communication with local communities, and interoperability for maximising the

utility of data holdings for regional government. Under-investment in this key area is

perhaps one of the clearest indicators about the difficulties of the present situation.

The disparity in record keeping practice across the sector is marked. While the scope

and coverage of systems for archaeology are well known, there is little information

about the use of information systems for historic building work.

A rapid survey conducted by David Baker in connection with this project (Baker

2002) shows that at least a quarter of authorities, perhaps as many as half, have no

information system to support their historic buildings and areas work. A survey about

to be published by the NMR conducted by Martin Newman shows by contrast that

over 80% of SMRs hold information about listed and unlisted building. How many of

these are actively used to support historic building and area casework is not known.

 

As the Listed Building System becomes available in the form of downloads to local

authorities later this year, it is a worrying prospect that we might see a proliferation of

local systems being set up in an ad hoc way by hundreds of local authorities,

duplicating what English Heritage holds and is already indexed in SMRs all over the

country. Without agreed data standards and common practice, there is no likelihood

that these records can be made available for cross-searching or strategic use. Nigel

Clubb's paper today addresses other issues connected with information strategies for

making historic information widely accessible.

The results of this study of resources have many different implications but for an

'agenda for the 21st century' there are some key issues

 

Clear benchmarks for the quality and quantity of service provision are

urgently needed to improve consistency of service levels and monitoring of

performance, for use generally and in the context of Best Value Reviews.

Agreement on a system for compiling annual statistics on indicators of

performance and state of the environment is needed across the sector.

These might be compiled jointly by local authorities with English Heritage,

and promoted through the professional Institutions (IHBC, IFA / ALGAO).

Changes to the collection of data through CIPFA could improve assessment of

actual expenditure on conservation and a more meaningful comparison of

spend with local resources and need.

 

Local authority services for conservation of the historic environment would

benefit from a restatement of a minimum standard for provision, working from

the guiding principles issued to reorganised authorities by the DNH (now

DCMS) in 1995 / 1997. The objective is an effective critical mass of expertise

in a mixed pattern of authorities, well-integrated relationships between and

within authorities, with ownership by the local planning authority at the point

of delivery.

 

Frameworks for good practice are needed and could be co-ordinated

effectively by the professional Institutes within the parameters of guidance

from government and English Heritage. Related to this is the need to develop

education and training programmes to remedy skills shortages and improve

mutual awareness of professional interests and standards across the sector.

The Planning Green Paper has signalled the review of PPGs 15 and 16 (DTLR

2001). They could be integrated as a single guidance document for the

historic environment in order to consolidate and simplify the present dual

policy guidance. The new document might highlight relationships with other

regulatory systems.

 

Resources and expertise for environmental information systems would

benefit from co-ordinating arrangements between national and local interests,

and utilising the emerging ‘planning portal’. The wider value of environmental

planning and the usefulness of environmental information for general public

interest and education should be recognised in the resourcing of links with

other local authority services such as libraries, archives and museums.

In conclusion, in answer to the question 'Is less really more?' the answer is both 'Yes'

and 'No'.

 

'Yes', because even though there are fewer resources in the public sector, some

authorities and organisations are still delivering more for the historic environment by

releasing the dividends of partnership and joint working across the public and private

sector. We need to share that good practice and experience, avoid duplication and

double handling, and set thresholds for what should be achievable.

'No', in that conservation has fewer resources and there are ever-increasing demands

upon services for historic environment conservation. Important proactive work is

being neglected and it appears that in some authorities the sector is falling below

threshold of acceptable service provision. But to lobby effectively for greater

resources there has to be a substantial case that shows how and where provision is

falling short and its impact on the quality of the environment and quality of life for

communities. We need to be able to show comprehensively the real benefits that flow

from caring for the historic environment and where the greatest need lies.

 

Finally, as authors of the study, we would like to express our gratitude for all the

assistance that we received from so many people in local authorities and other

organisations who generously provided information, reports and statistics - in an

impossible timescale. This is our opportunity to thank them all and to acknowledge

the contribution that the conservation community as a whole made to this study.

 

References

Aitchison, K. 2001. 'The Funding of Professional Archaeological Practice in England',

Cultural Trends, 39

Aitchison, K. and Dennison, S., (ed), 1999. Profiling the Profession, EH / IFA / CBA

Arup Economics & Planning with the Bailey Consultancy, 2002. Resourcing of Local

Planning Authorities, London: DTLR. Available at www.planning.dtlr.gov.uk/planrezc/index.htm

Baker, D., 2002, Specialist Information Systems supporting the work of Conservation Officers

in local planning authorities. Available at www.ihbc.org.uk

Baxter, I. 2001. The Heritage Monitor 2000/2001: The annual review of the historic

environment for everyone interested in conservation, tourism and development, Moffat Centre

for Travel & Tourism Business Development, London: English Tourism Council

Best Value Inspection Service, 2001a, Test Valley Planning Services Best Value Inspection,

London: Audit Commission

Best Value Inspection Service, 2001b, Hartlepool Borough Council. Tees Archaeology Best

Value Inspection, London: Audit Commission

Cotswold District Council, 2001, Best Value Review of the Conservation and Design Service,

Cotswold District Council, March 2001, unpublished report

Darvill, T. and B. Russell, 2002, 'Archaeology After PPG16: Archaeological Investigations in

England 1990-99' (Bournemouth University School of Conservation Sciences, Research

Report 10), Bournemouth University in association with English Heritage

DETR, 2000, Planning statistics 1995-2000 www.planning.detr.gov.uk/stats.htm

DNH, 1995. 'Local Government reorganisation: guidance to local authorities on conservation

of the historic environment', DNH: London

DTLR ,2001. Planning: delivering a fundamental change, London: DTLR

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regeneration 1994-1999, London: English Heritage

Essex County Council Specialist Planning and Conservation Services 2001. Best Value

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Hanna, M. 2000. The Heritage Monitor 2000: A yearly analysis of trends affecting England's

architectural heritage - a vital tourism asset, London: English Tourism Council

Kindred, B., 2001a, 'Ipswich Best Value Pilot: Prioritising Workload and Quality Monitoring',

unpublished report, Ipswich Borough Council

Kindred, B., 2001b, 'Local Authority Conservation Officer Posts', unpublished survey 1999-

2001