Cathedral & Church Sustainability Review: to report “this year”

The review of the sustainability of current funding arrangements for the repair of historic Anglican cathedrals and churches is to report “before the end of the year” – that is, within the next two weeks, says Junior Culture Minister John Glen.

Speaking at the Heritage Alliance conference on 5th December, he added that the review was putting the final touches to its long-awaited report.

The review was set up early in 2016 by the former Chancellor, George Osborne, who had previously been instrumental is setting aside funds for the repair of places of worship.

The Church of England alone has some 12,000 listed churches, including 45% of all Grade 1 listed buildings.

The review panel, chaired by Bernard Taylor, carried out a consultation in late 2016 but the publication of any report has been repeatedly delayed.  Other factors such as the sudden announcement by the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2017 of the merger of its repair schemes for churches with its “open” grant schemes, and in November 2017 of  major cuts in its grants overall, will have complicated its deliberations.

There has also been criticism of the decision to confine the review to Anglican churches and cathedrals.  Other faiths and denominations face equal or greater challenges in keeping their buildings in serviceable condition.  The hope appears to be that the review will inspire solutions for other faiths and denominations.

Heritage Funding Cuts may force re-think of Britain’s Conservation Nonsense

 

Sweeping cuts to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s grant programmes have recently been announced, largely caused by falling sales of national lottery tickets.

The cuts will cause widespread alarm in the sector – but may yet force a much-needed re-think of the strategic nonsense at the heart of Britain’s building conservation movement.

HLF’s grant budgets peaked in 2016/17 at £435M, but have fallen to £190M in the current year 2017/18 and will fall again to £135M in 2018/19.

The cuts affect, in particular, the biggest grants (over £5M) for the largest conservation projects, for which there will be no money at all in 2019.

Specialised grant programmes such as those for urban parks and townscape heritage initiatives are being telescoped into its other “open” programmes and will hence have to compete with many other applications for the reduced funding available.

Funding for church repairs will fall from £20M in 2018/19 to £13.5M in 2019/20.

HLF Strategy: Time for Change

The announcement coincides with the start in the New Year of HLF’s consultation programme on its new strategy for the years 2019-2024.

In Maintain’s view, the building conservation movement in the UK has become dangerously focussed on the rescue of tiny numbers of neglected buildings at extravagant, and often HLF-funded, expense, while many of the rest are left to rot.

Maintenance – both of existing fabric, and existing uses – has been largely or totally excluded from the ambit of official grant schemes. This has created a perverse incentive to skimp on maintenance in the hope that historic buildings are then eligible for repair grants. Some churches have even started actively welcoming being added to the “at risk” registers run by Historic England and its equivalents.

A significant consultancy industry has evolved to help churches and local groups develop the often complex applications HLF and others now require. Many other funding bodies, including the Architectural Heritage Fund, are now largely geared to funding the studies HLF applications require.

The sudden removal of large funding streams will undoubtedly cause serious issues for some major conservation projects. Significant redundancies are likely among these consultants and some architectural practices.

But, coming as it does just before HLF revises its strategy for the 2019-2024, it might – just – be the incentive it needs to reconsider its long-held refusal to fund maintenance.

Britain’s Strategic Heritage Nonsense

Britain now has a daft strategic situation: Historic England has lots of expertise but very limited funds to do anything with it, while HLF has much larger funds but virtually no expertise of its own, being limited to the reactive processing of applications for grants, and subject to strict administration cost controls imposed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

Maintain will be adding its voice to those, notably at DCMS, who have at last started to realise that Britain’s current conservation arrangements are a strategic nonsense.