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Written Statement - The future of our past: A consultation on proposals for the historic environment of Wales.

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

I am pleased to announce the launch of an important consultation on the future of the historic environment in Wales on Thursday, 18 July. This includes proposals for the first ever heritage legislation specifically for Wales, which will guide the sector for years to come.

The historic environment is an important contributor to local distinctiveness. It generates a powerful sense of place that inspires community pride and confidence and gives people a sense of belonging that fosters wellbeing.  It delivers tangible economic benefits for Wales.  Over 30,000 people are employed in the sector and it contributes around £1.8 billion in output and £840 million to Wales’ national gross value added.  The historic environment is central to our tourism offer with heritage being one of the top reasons people give for visiting Wales according to research by Visit Wales.

Moreover, the historic environment can contribute to life-long learning, through both formal education and by developing skills and confidence through active participation in informal and family learning. It also plays a role in the fight against poverty, making an important contribution to regeneration, renewed community confidence and inward investment.

Wales’s heritage is a precious resource and for the most part its guardians care for it well.  But it is also a resource under threat as people respond to the challenges posed by the unprecedented economic conditions, climate change and altering patterns of consumer behaviour and religious attendance. If the historic environment is going to continue to deliver its rich benefits to the people of Wales, we need to identify what is significant and we need to manage change in a sensitive and sustainable way.  With such care, and with the right organisational framework in place, our heritage will be passed on for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations.

Our Historic Environment Strategy for Wales sets out a vision of a well-protected and accessible historic environment and the proposals in the consultation document aim to make a central contribution to realising that vision.

The Heritage Bill and associated measures will aim to modernise and simplify controls while making protection more effective where it is needed. Five principal desirable outcomes have been identified:

  1. To improve protection – by ensuring that what is significant to the people of Wales is identified, understood and sustained.
  2. To increase flexibility in the system – by introducing new mechanisms for the positive management of the Welsh historic environment, allowing for the continued use of historic assets to sustain flourishing Welsh communities.
  3. To improve accountability and transparency – by making the system of designation clearer and according owners a clear voice.
  4. To streamline and harmonise regimes – by creating synergies and removing some existing anomalies.
  5. To strengthen the delivery of historic environment services – by ensuring the continued effective management and conservation of historic assets in Wales.

These outcomes will be delivered through a variety of means including policy interventions, improvements to guidance and primary and secondary legislation. We are consulting on a wide range of proposals to improve the identification and protection of historic assets of national and local significance and the management of changes that affect these assets.  

Some of the proposed measures look at how we could simplify or increase transparency in existing systems. The consultation also considers measures for streamlining aspects of the listed building consent regime with the aim of developing a system that enables owners and authorities to manage change to listed buildings sensitively and sustainably, keeping them in use but at the same time retaining the particular features that make them historically significant.

We are also exploring ways to give greater recognition to the value of historic parks, gardens and battlefields, and historic sites of local importance and how we can improve protection for our World Heritage Sites.

And, the consultation is asking for views on the organisational framework for national and local historic environment services in Wales, including options for the merger of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Cadw.

The consultation document will be available on the Welsh Government website from Thursday, 18 July 2013 and the consultation will run until 11 October 2013. A consultation response report will be published later in the year.