United Kingdom/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.3 Cultural heritage

Statutory controls exist to protect historic buildings and monuments when this is considered to be in the public interest. The Museums Act 1845 empowered borough councils of at least 10 000 inhabitants to levy a 1/2 d (equivalent to 0.25 pence) on the local rates to provide public museums. The National Heritage Act 1983 clarified the administration of heritage and established English Heritage (officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England). Buildings of special architectural or historic significance (including occupied premises) are "listed" according to specific grades of importance by the relevant government departments or their appointed agencies in all four countries of the UK; there are about 375 000 listed buildings in England. Government departments are also responsible for compiling a schedule of ancient monuments, which offers a similar level of protection to that of "listed" buildings. Currently, there are about 20 000 entries (about 31 400 sites) in the schedule for England. Local planning authorities in Britain and central government in Northern Ireland are legally obliged to designate as "conservation" areas those places (as opposed to buildings) of special historic or architectural interest. English Heritage has so far recorded over 9 400 conservation areas in England.

The principal agencies and departments which support the work of the central government authorities protecting the historic environment are English Heritage, Historic Scotland, CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NEIA). They discharge statutory responsibilities relating to the preservation, protection and maintenance of ancient monuments, historic buildings and conservation areas.

In Scotland the agency undertaking these functions, Historic Scotland, is also part of the Scottish Government and directly responsible to Scottish Ministers. The responsibility for recording the built cultural heritage is held in Scotland by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The Scottish Government's Architecture and Place Division works closely with Historic Scotland, RCAHMS and other relevant bodies on matters affecting a sustainable approach to design, issues regarding new buildings in historic settings and the quality of the wider built environment relative to historic monuments.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund provides financial assistance towards the acquisition, maintenance and preservation of buildings, land, and works of art and other objects of outstanding importance to the national heritage. An independent agency, the National Trust, is responsible for over 300 historic houses and gardens and 49 industrial monuments and mills in England open to the public (it also looks after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves and villages). It is funded largely from membership subscriptions and income generated from the sale of products, souvenirs, etc. The National Trust for Scotland, an independent charity, is similarly responsible for 128 sites throughout Scotland. The bulk of historic buildings and archaeological sites remain in private ownership.


Chapter published: 15-04-2011


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