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.