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Written Statement - Towards an historic environment advisory panel for Wales and strategic plans for the historic environment sector

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

In May of 2013 I published my historic environment strategy for Wales which articulated a series of measures that were designed to enable the protection of our heritage and encourage public access, enjoyment and participation. That strategy, and the preparatory work for the forthcoming Heritage Bill, was informed by an extensive engagement with heritage specialists, stakeholders and the general public. A specific action was to explore the options for the establishment of a new independent advisory panel to provide expert advice to support the Welsh Government in the development of future historic environment policy and strategy and the delivery of historic environment services at a national level in Wales. This would complement the work of my Historic Environment Group, which comprises nominated representatives of organisations from across the sector in Wales and acts as a forum for stakeholder communication and coordinated action.

In July of 2013 I published ‘The future of our past: A consultation on proposals for the historic environment of Wales’. The consultation responses strongly supported the development of regular strategic plans, produced in collaboration with the sector. The responses also provided further support for the establishment of the advisory panel, both to assist with the development of the plans and also to support and, where appropriate, to challenge our historic environment services. In my oral statement to the Assembly in January, I announced my intention to take both of these proposals forward. I would now like to provide an update on how I intend to proceed.

The proposals outlined in the consultation saw the development of the strategic plans as being a genuinely collaborative process, with extensive stakeholder engagement. The current intention is that the plans will be developed at five yearly intervals and will set out a comprehensive, contemporary and effective programme of work covering three interrelated areas of activity: increasing our knowledge of the historic environment, conserving it and engaging with the public and promoting access. These areas of work will need to be supported by authoritative, accessible and up-to-date information and records relating to the historic environment.

While these strategic plans will be specifically developed for the historic environment sector, they will also contribute to achieving the shared national sustainable development goals which we propose to include in the Future Generations Bill as well as complementing the proposals being developed by the wider legislative programme, including the Planning and Environment bills.

My officials in Cadw will have a key role in the development and delivery of the actions contained within the successive plans. However, there will also be a need to foster a wider sense of ownership, which will be achieved though engagement and consultation with our partners in my Historic Environment Group and elsewhere. I propose that the independent advisory panel would have a key role in advising me on the development of the plans and reporting on their delivery.

In addition to this role, the panel would also provide expert advice, guidance and, where appropriate, challenge for those who deliver public historic environment services at a national level in Wales. It is important that the emerging work programmes demonstrate and build upon the significant contribution that the sector makes to economic and social well-being, contributing to jobs, growth, education attainment, the alleviation of poverty and participation in a shared culture. The panel would offer new and stimulating perspectives for how the historic environment sector can contribute to the challenge of achieving these outcomes for the people of Wales.      

For these reasons the panel will have a key role in supporting the sector and with this in mind I am minded to establish it on a statutory basis through the Heritage Bill. This reflects the importance that the Welsh Government attaches to the historic environment as well as recognising the need for long-term policy commitment and planning. Membership of the panel will also follow a transparent appointments process, reflecting the Code of Practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies.

I have now asked my officials in Cadw to discuss the detailed arrangements for the advisory panel and for the strategic planning process with key stakeholders and partners, including members of the Historic Environment Group. Meetings will be held over the coming months with the intention of finalising the proposed approach by the early autumn, in time for the introduction of the Heritage Bill.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.