In a recent meeting of the IfA’s Executive committee it was recognised that ‘the greatest threat to archaeology and the historic environment comes from cuts to local authority historic environment services’ (see http://tinyurl.com/6jgh4td) The instrumental role of these services in identifying, protecting and mitigating the archaeological implications of development on undesignated assets (that make up 95% of the whole ‘historic environment’) was emphasised as critical.
The IfA argue that, in England, PPS5 sets ‘clear guidance on a local authority’s responsibilities and represents a unique opportunity for significant improvements in practice’. RESCUE remains unconvinced. The continued non-appearance of a much awaited Heritage Protection Bill leaving Historic Environment Records (HERs), often central to the functioning of an effective local authority archaeology service, without statutory protection underlines just how perilous the situation is. As the IfA admit, ‘the continued employment of such staff is far from assured’. The news from most counties is bad (see, eg the RESCUE on-line Cuts Map at http://www.rescue-archaeology.org.uk/map), and it is unlikely archaeology services can be high up on any local authority priority lists, particularly when competing against services that are statutory.
The IfA, in the same statement, comment that they are working hard to engender more protection for local authority archaeology services in Scotland, outside the scope of PPS5.
Protecting Heritage in Scotland
The snappily entitled Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is currently going through Scottish Parliament (see http://tinyurl.com/5rjrgoz).
The bill is focused primarily on the revision of issues related to the protection of statutory sites, with amendments proposed to The Historic Buildings And Ancient Monuments Act 1953, The Ancient Monuments And Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and The Planning (Listed Buildings And Conservation Areas) (Scotland)Act 1997.
An opportunity missed
However, early representations from major stakeholders in Scottish Archaeology, particularly through, the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) stressed that the reading of the bill in parliament and its 3-stage debate offered a unique opportunity to extend more robust protection to 95% of ‘below-ground’ archaeology, and to the 89% of historic buildings that were not covered by statutory designations and therefore were outside the scope of the bill. A key proposal from BEFS was to ‘ensure that planning authorities have access and give special regard to appropriate information and expert advice on the local historic environment in exercising their duties.’ (see http://tinyurl.com/5r3qlz4).
A point missed
This call was debated in parliament, and the argument was raised that the purpose of the bill was not to give rise to any additional responsibilities for local authorities, particularly in the current economic climate. The vast majority of stakeholders responded that all local authorities now had provision of a local authority advice service, including an HER, and that as such the infrastructure of ‘appropriate information and expert advice on the local historic environment’ was already in place. Such a provision would ensure that the bill would confirm the status of these services as a statutory requirement, fundamental to the bill’s stated aim ‘to improve the management and protection of Scotland’s historic environment’.
Several MSPs did take up the cause, with Ken Macintosh (Eastwood), Labour, stating that the case for the protection of local authority posts was as much about protecting the knowledge that goes with curatorial positions, and the information service that underpins the advice service, as protecting the jobs. He concluded, ‘The bill offers us an opportunity. Currently, there is not only a lack of legislation or statutory backing for policy for the whole of the historic environment but concern about the nature of staff in the area and the consistency of implementation of policy towards the built environment and the historic environment across Scotland.’
Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs, claimed that ‘amendment 15 would place an unnecessary new duty on public bodies’, despite Ken Macintosh having argued that the amendment had been specially drafted to put no further financial burdens on local authorities.
Both amendment 15 and 16, relating to statutory protection for local authority archaeology services, were defeated by narrow votes against.
It is perhaps ironic that the convenor had already closed the ‘debate’ on stage 2 of the Bill at 11:22 on 15 December. Two hours later the IfA issued a statement that they were campaigning hard for local authority archaeology in Scotland.
The day after the failure of both amendments, BEFS issued their press release with the title Politicians Squander Chance to Protect Scotland’s Heritage.
A vain hope
Despite much co-ordination between local authorities, and with ALGAO (Scotland) and BEFS working closely together, Historic Scotland (HS), as advisors to the minister, stayed very quiet on the issue of the protection of the 95% of archaeology falling outside their remit. They have continued to maintain that a softly-softly approach is the best way to achieve ‘improvements in the management of the historic environment’ (see http://tinyurl.com/6z4pu6f and http://tinyurl.com/6akz4nn).Indeed, after the stage 3 debate of the bill, HS claimed this marked the dawning of an era of ‘new protection for the Historic Environment’, with Fiona Hyslop summing up the ministerial view that changes to the designation system had lead to widespread improvements to the management of the historic environment as a whole.
The current situation in England suggests that this softly-softly approach is unlikely to succeed, leaving undesignated sites vulnerable to development should local authority advice and protection services fall victim to short-term and short-sighted budget related decision making.