That is the warning from the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), which says that local planning department increasingly cannot cope.
The latest annual report on local authority staff resources, carried out by the IHBC in partnership with English Heritage and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), has found that since 2006 one in three conservation officers has lost their jobs due to budget cuts. This has resulted in a massive loss in building conservation knowledge and expertise, IHBC chair Mike Brown said.
“The report shows local authority conservation capacity has reached breaking point,” said Mr Brown. “One in four local authorities has no conservation officer or little more than limited part time advice on the protection, maintenance and repair of these important buildings. The scale of the cutbacks identified in this research means that we really must question the capacity of many local authorities to cope with even their statutory conservation duties.”
Local authorities are responsible, through the planning system, for making decisions on how heritage is protected and developed.
“When a local authority does not have access to that advice, or that advice is stretched, then decisions are made that put local heritage at risk, the planning process can be slowed down and decisions are taken without the full understanding of their implications,” Mr Brown continued.
“Too many of these losses are being based on short-term populist decisions and hasty axing of conservation services as ‘unaffordable’ or ‘non critical’,” says Mike Brown. “We are at a crisis point where local authorities are becoming unable to cope with statutory workload which has direct consequences for their customers and the community.
“Our heritage buildings also play an important role in sustainable economic development, business growth and job stability. Caring for and promoting our heritage supports society, helps economic growth and sustains tourism.”