2016 Yearbook

R E V I E W 15 CHAIR’S REVIEW MIKE BROWN, IHBC CHAIR Last year was a most invigorating one with many far-reaching changes enacted and proposed both within the institute and across the sector. This year promises more hard work for our national office and our volunteer base. Very significant change surrounds us with the continuing loss of public sector provision. Yet, through it all, the institute has continued to grow in stature and recognition as the bastion of professional standards and an open-minded catalyst for reform within a system increasingly exposed as being broken through lack of investment. In May, the people spoke and heritage slid further down the political agenda at Westminster. Given the oft-reported public support for heritage, one is left to conclude that this is a consequence of the peculiar priorities within the Westminster village. The 2015 survey of local planning authority conservation capacity carried out by our national office and published in Heritage Counts showed a continuing decline. Some 15 per cent of LPAs are now unable to demonstrate any credible in-house or bought- in heritage expertise to inform their decision-making, a clear consequence of the 35 per cent cuts to conservation service capacity documented by the IHBC since 2006. I am driven to question the validity of local choice when it is used in this way to potentially harm assets of national importance. Even the Local Government Association has begun to express concern at this abuse. For the institute, the consequent question of this decline in public sector help and guidance must be: if not that, then what? Our charitable aims demand that we bend every sinew to ensure that decisions taken at every level of the care of our national heritage are well-informed, viable and sustainable. If the public purse can no longer provide, then who will? This is a vexed question for many owners of listed buildings and other assets who find that the phone at the town hall is no longer picked up (or if it is, it is by a clerk or planner who has to explain that there is no longer a conservation officer on the staff). Abandoned, owners have to fend for themselves. With no tax or other financial support they are left with the bald choice of muddling through or paying for heritage advice. This can only deepen the historical misconception that heritage is a burden. The institute has risen to this challenge by forging new partnerships with owners’ organisations, archaeology bodies, the Historic Environment Forum and its equivalents and the national advisory bodies, seeking new ways of filling this missing capacity. The Culture White Paper has provided a platform for tabling new demand and supply proposals that aim, in the short- term, to bridge the gap and, in the longer term, recast the protection system so that it works in a more effective way and is better able to meet the needs of all ‘customers’. While the Welsh Heritage Bill is not what was originally hoped for, perhaps it can show something of what reform can bring. Happily, the institute has continued to grow, both in members and in capacity. Fears about the consequences of the recession on our membership roll have not materialised, perhaps because in such tough times it is all the more important to demonstrate your professional standing. The governance reforms developed by Trefor Thorpe, our now past- president, (and I pause to welcome David McDonald, his successor) were adopted at the AGM in Norwich and immediately put into action at the first Council+ meeting in June. This enlarged and more democratic base for our deliberations, which is drawn from our branch membership, met again recently and I am heartened to see the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants. I look around the room and see so many potential future trustees, office-holders and, who knows, chairs of our institute. For this is my third and, by tradition, last year as your chair. It has been wonderful. I am so proud of this institute and the hard work and commitment of our national office and the countless volunteers who make it all work. We are that rare thing, run on a shoestring, yet making a big impression; managed by volunteers yet readily achieving the highest professional standards; charged with a conservation ethos yet willing to embrace radical change when necessary. The vocational spirit lives on through us. Mike Brown, chair@ihbc.org.uk