Heritage impacts of the rationalisation and disposal of the defence estate

The National Audit Office has just published a review of the Defence Estate Optimisation (DEO) programme. Aside from the overarching conclusions that the programme isn’t going as well as it might do – in terms of speed, cost, reduced income generation and overall project management and complexity – the more interesting reading comes from a reminder of some of the facts and figures about the defence estate of relevance for heritage management and natural landscape management.

The defence estate comprises 344,200 hectares of land in the UK, which comprises 1.5% of the country’s landmass.

The built estate comprises 75,400 hectares (32% of the overall holding) containing offices, technical facilities, and storage and support for military equipment and inventory. It consists of 900 sites, which have roughly 96,000 buildings including houses, technical assets, such as storage units and training facilities, and other assets such as runways and electrical networks.

In broader landscape management terms, the rural estate comprises 157,500 hectares (68% of the overall holding) and is used for training and ranges. This land includes designated and protected areas including 13 national parks, 33 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 11 National Scenic Areas.

Around 40% of the Department’s infrastructure is more than 50 years old and it regards 30% as not being in an acceptable condition.

The DEO programme aims for a reduction of the built estate by 30% by 2040.

The Ministry of Defence looks after significant heritage assets in terms of historic buildings/sites and landscapes – the ongoing optimisation and disposals programme presents both challenges and opportunities for its historic environment holdings in terms of ongoing maintenance and renewal needs, survival or protection, and adaptation and change under new management.

Capital, authority, consumer and resident

I have just read a paper by Zhang et al. on the reproduction of consumer spaces as applied to the historic districts of Beijing city centre. It took its cue from theories around the social construction of space for touristic purposes, and further considered the historical development of that space over an extended period. Using some detailed property use analysis, the researchers considered statistically the differing concentrations which developed in the different historic districts of tourism-focused versus resident-focused businesses.

I will freely admit that some of the equations and graphs were beyond me, but the analytical commentary was clearly expressed, and the study showed the importance of looking at the intersection of different capital flows in urban historic districts with the influences of differing types of authority (i.e. control) on development. This in turn affects the agency of residents and behaviour of consumers which in a feedback loop affects the ongoing management and development (and indeed control) of those historic areas.

So what – all very obvious? Maybe, but having recently spent time over in workshops with colleagues thinking about climate vulnerability in Edinburgh’s World Heritage designated area, the paper got me thinking again about how different types of capital (beyond just money) ebbs and flows around the different and distinct historic ‘districts’ of Edinburgh’s WHS and where different types of authority and control are exerted, felt and influenced. Further, it got me wondering how does agency of resident and consumers change across those different districts as a result of those flows of capital, and what are the longer term implications for the city as a result?

Reference: Keer Zhang, Handuo Deng, Fang Wang & Ye Yuan (2021) Reproduction of consumer spaces and historic district touristification in Old Beijing City, Tourism Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2021.1934724

Reflecting on the DCMS Tourism Recovery Plan

The DCMS has just published its Tourism Recovery Plan. There is a lot in it, with stats and analysis comparing the pre- and ‘post’-pandemic situation, underlining that tourism is one of most important industries and also one of the industries which has suffered the most in the pandemic.

The multi-faceted nature of the tourism industry means that there cannot be a single guiding mind in public policy terms – different parts of the industry are regulated from within different public policy areas, and various bits of the tourism policy brief are a devolved matter for the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What comes through clearly in the Plan is that a post-pandemic recovery is reliant on good data, sharing of knowledge and greater co-ordination and collaboration across those disparate policy briefs, to enable a good (and green) recovery, rather than just an economic rebound which is looked for seemingly in some of the language of the document.

Sustainability and spreading the beneficial impact of tourism does feature in the report, though the messages and aims here could be more ambitious and inclusive. I recognise this is tricky however – but we need to be balancing that looked-for rebound with growth which is inclusive and provides net positives across a triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic). Communities need to be enhanced by tourism and not blighted – and it would be unfortunate to chase a rebound which leads back to discussions of 2018 and 2019 on over-tourism, environmental degradation, economic inequality and tension between the industry and host communities.

The heritage sector really gets centre billing in the Plan. Through figures presented, commentary and case study, the role of the historic environment (where distinctive built or natural character is a key feature) explicitly and implicitly provides the overarching places, canvas or ‘-scapes’ for what is looked for in Britain as a global and local tourism destination. The heritage sector arguably is positioned in an excellent place as far as the recovery public policy lens goes. The challenge that is going to weigh on us as a sector again is the need to further prioritise, balance competing desires of conservation and development, and keep cool calm conversations at the heart of the shared desire for what a good recovery is for both heritage and tourism together.

Heritage at Risk in Lincolnshire

© David Gill

The RSA Heritage Index (2020) allows a comparison to be made between different regions. This histogram shows the percentage of Listed Buildings and Scheduled Monuments are at risk across Lincolnshire (including the unitary authorities of North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire). There are 42 Grade I Listed Buildings at risk, 35 Grade II*, and 9 Grade II; there are 79 Scheduled Monuments at risk.

A different view is obtained if the actual numbers are presented. This places an emphasis on the issue of protecting Scheduled Monuments.

© David Gill

Heritage at Risk in the Eastern Region

© David Gill

The RSA Heritage Index (2020) provides an important source for considering how heritage is placed at risk across the six counties. Norfolk has the highest percentage of Grade I listed buildings at risk with 7.7 per cent, followed by Bedfordshire at 5.3 per cent. Norfolk also has the highest percentage of Grade II* listed buildings at risk with 3.5 per cent. Grade II listed buildings are largely considered not to be at risk across the region. However, scheduled sites are far more at risk: Cambridgeshire stands at 16.6 per cent, followed by Essex at 8.7 per cent.

How can such fragile and vulnerable heritage be protected across the region?

The RSA Heritage Index and the Eastern Counties

Norwich Cathedral © David Gill

Norwich has the highest rating in the RSA Heritage Index (2020) at number 3 for England. The rankings in all seven categories are almost identical to those for 2016. The lowest score, as might be expected for an urban location, is for Landscape and Natural Heritage.

© David Gill

Cambridge is placed at number 9, and like Norwich does not do so well for Landscape and Natural Heritage. Like Norwich, its rankings for the different themes are very similar to those for 2016.

© David Gill

Southend-on-Sea, a unitary authority, is placed at number 19. Its particular strength lies in Landscape and Natural Heritage, as well as Industrial Heritage, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts. Again, note the similarity to the rankings for 2016.

© David Gill

Ipswich, the highest ranking authority for Suffolk, is placed at number 87 (a fall from 2016). There is an improvement in the theme of Culture and Memories, though slight falls for Parks and Open Spaces, and the General category.

© David Gill

Colchester in Essex is placed at number 140. It shares a museum service with Ipswich, though does not perform as well as in the theme of Museums, Archives and Artefacts. There are improvements from 2016 in the themes of Historic Built Environment, Culture and Memories, but a slight slippage for Parks and Open Spaces.

© David Gill

Altogether there are 11 locations in the eastern region that are placed in the top 100 for England: four in Norfolk, three for Essex (plus Southend-on-Sea), two for Suffolk, and one for Cambridgeshire.

Evolving operational policies for Covid-19

Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.

The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.

The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.

From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.

Jobs for a green recovery – report from Green Alliance

The Green Alliance has just published a policy insight report setting out the data and arguments for investment in a range of nature-based investments which would bring about environmental improvement, assist climate change mitigation and deliver social and economic benefits, notably in job creation for areas of the country where there is a distinct labour market challenge.

The summary report and accompanying detailed analysis include focused case studies on some specific potential actions, such as habitat restoration for bogs and seagrass, and tree planting and park creation. These specific examples within a broader approach for green jobs help to build that compelling case, especially given the downstream wider potential skills development, higher level job creation, and broad long-term societal benefits.

The detailed report shows the impacts diagrammatically.

Diagram of potential economic impacts of natural environment enhancement

There isn’t a specific read-across to the historic environment within the report, but the links can be seen – from allied research and operations associated with understanding and managing the cultural landscape as nature-based investment is made, to shared skills enhancement and longer-term job creation which benefits both the natural and historic environment.

Figure 10 in the detailed report provides a breakdown of jobs in Scotland in nature-based activities and nature-dependent sectors in 2019 with 195,300 total jobs, noting that 2% of these are specifically related to museums and cultural activities, with a further proportions being travel/recreation and hospitality-related, and natural craft skills which are intimately tied to the heritage of localities.

Figure 10 jobs breakdown
Hirst, A. & Lazarus, H (2020) Supporting a Green Recovery: an initial assessment of nature based jobs and skills. NatureScot Research Report No. 1257

The multivalent future life of The National Gallery

Publication of the latest National Gallery Strategic Plan 2021-2026 will take the organisation through to its 200th birthday. The plan is very much a product of the pandemic, recognising the change over the past year, challenges and opportunities that the gallery has gone through and actions it needs now to mainstream in its operations to thrive into the future.

The Gallery sees itself as embarking on a newly enhanced commitment to engage with the widest audiences globally in innovative ways, and wants to demonstrate how art is transformative, enhancing culture and society. It intends to develop income streams through a range of digital channels and offerings, rework the visitor welcome and orientation in the Sainsbury Wng, and foregrounds the research credentials of the Gallery as a hub for an enhanced and diverse community of practice.

There is much to applaud here, not least the optimistic and engaging tone in which the strategy is written. As a connoisseur of strategic plans and annual reports, there are also some sentences which may baffle and amuse. My favourites for this plan include:

It is this multivalent life, always finding new ways to share our art, that defines the Gallery and will continually redefine it in future.

Strategic Plan, p.5

Multivalent? There’s a word you don’t see every day!.

…we will diversify the social media channels we serve to include programmes we do not already use (TikTok, Snapchat) as well as doubling down on the ones we do.

Strategic Plan, p.10

Doubling down? A phrase with history… but also a gamble.

Mainstreaming & Equality Outcomes at Historic Environment Scotland

HES has just published an update on its work to embed equality and diversity across its operations and activities with data on 2019-2020 and a range of case studies highlighting progress. The main report is web-based with dynamic content (personally speaking I feel a PDF would also be helpful, but I may have missed the link).

The report is good to see, not least the recognition that the organisation is at the start of its journey in comparison to others: a phrase that jumps off the page for example admits that it is still currently a ‘white organisation’ and needs to work to represent Scotland’s society better internally. It usefully considers both the internal and external environments for the organisation.

The complexities of the issues are large and structural barriers to overcome are large, and the report charges its directorates with expectations to address these, and enable the historic environment to work for everyone, and enable all sections of society to engage with their heritage.

The response to the pandemic and the shift to new ways of working with enhanced digital service delivery add a further challenge and opportunity, and will need to be one of the ingredients to address the issues.

I’d argue that further articulation in future also needs to be made around equality and access in the context of chronic ill health disability (beyond typical disability classifications) and challenges of ageing society; financial exclusion and its ramifications for engagement with heritage; and also consideration of specific geographic issues (e.g. urban / rural / island / remote) as they impact on stakeholders in the historic environment.