IHBC Yearboox 2018

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 35 SHARING CAPACITY LOCAL AUTHORITY CONSERVATION SERVICES FIONA NEWTON T HE IHBC’S longstanding work in collecting and analysing information on conservation provision across the UK is well recognised. The collection of data in Northern Ireland this year will complete at least initial baselines in the whole of the UK following the ongoing work in England since 2006 and one-off studies of Wales and Scotland. The IHBC research in England, funded and published by Historic England, shows that local authority conservation services have experienced over a decade of cuts. In 2017 conservation capacity was reduced by a further 0.5 per cent with a cumulative decline of 36 per cent since 2006 (see Further Information, IHBC et al, 2017). Set against the backdrop of overall service reduction, the changes have been specifically in the loss of in-house specialist staff. The provision of staffing bought from other local authorities has remained fairly static from 2006, when it made up 1.2 per cent of all local authority capacity, to a current level of 1.3 per cent. Likewise there has been a slight increase in the use of consultants carrying out the equivalent work of an in-house officer. Today around 2.3 per cent of total conservation capacity is provided by a consultant in this role, while in 2006 it was 1.2 per cent. The decline of local authority conservation capacity has led not only to a cutback in services in general but also in the specifics of their work. A narrow focus on development management has replaced previously more widespread and proactive roles in policy-making, regeneration through conservation, strategic work in historic areas and positively tackling heritage at risk. Similarly, training, knowledge transfer and outreach aimed at property owners and other members of the public, and as part of succession planning for service staff, have also been curtailed. But even the resources available for the mainstream management of development have been hit. Illustrating the picture of continued rising workload and decreasing resources, the number of application decisions continues to increase (planning decisions by 3.6% and listed building consent decisions increased by 0.62% in the last year). Demands on existing capacity are already stretched, and will only increase with time. Effecting a major reversal in local authority practice is outside the institute’s influence but the IHBC still works in partnership with other like-minded professional and sector bodies to advocate for conservation services, while also offering training and guidance. Mapping the long decline of conservation services is not the IHBC’s only contribution to maintaining local authority conservation services. With the baseline data in place to help it understand the capacity and types of conservation service at work today, the institute is well placed to work on projects and initiatives to support and recognise local authority services. Conservation services remain diverse in their structures but radical changes to these structures have often accompanied the staffing decline. Cuts, reorganisations and redundancies have led to many conservation teams being reduced to a single post, often not full time, and with a growing risk that staff will lack formal training in conservation. The loss of senior and experienced staff before any replacement, or indeed without replacement, reduces continuity of knowledge and practice. Increasingly non-specialist staff are being seconded to conservation posts, at least six per cent of current services include staff without formal training or longstanding experience. These changes may all lead to impacts on the breadth of work the service is able to handle and the quality of advice given. The majority of conservation services still operate from and within the planning service. But conservation officers are now increasingly based in development management with its more direct links to casework, either