With the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) imminent there are fears for England’s heritage with government seeming to feel that this is a soft target. Indeed, in the current climate, it appears to be viewed as an unaffordable luxury.
This is hugely worrying for all heritage organisations but no where more so than at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The SPAB is the country’s oldest heritage body and, during its 130 year history, it has seen English heritage protection develop into a world-leading, highly regarded model. Matthew Slocombe, SPAB director, believes further erosion of this carefully constructed system would be a disaster. “The work of many generations, and of all main political parties, could be undone”, he says.
The Society’s concerns arise from recent press reports about the way in which funding cuts may be distributed in the CSR. English Heritage (EH), the principal government-sponsored heritage organisation, took a disproportionate hit in the CSR of 2010, with arts and museums escaping relatively lightly. Now, it looks as if the same may happen again.
“English Heritage has already been stripped to the bone”, says Slocombe. “They have nothing left to give, yet it looks like the cuts may again hit them much harder than other sectors supported by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. This would be a catastrophe for organisations like the SPAB and the causes we champion.”
Although the SPAB is principally backed by its members and supporters, the Society is dependent upon EH funding for a significant proportion of its work. Without this support it may cease to be able to offer training and advice, and to lever-in voluntary expertise. The SPAB works alongside EH in the planning system, helping to provide free expert advice to planning authorities. Importantly for future generations, EH assistance has helped the Society’s research into the improvement of old buildings’ energy efficiency. For me this is particularly worrying. Older buildings form a high proportion of our building stock and it’s essential that we find sympathetic and effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. Without EH backing and collaboration, the SPAB says this work will cease.