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The Historic Environment

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Alun Pugh, Minister For Culture, Welsh Language And Sport
Members will recall that I made a statement on the historic environment review last year. At that time, I outlined the measures to be implemented at a national and local level to ensure the continued protection of the rich heritage that we enjoy in Wales, and how we might ensure the closer involvement of communities. Subsequently, we have set a number of key issues in train.

In order to ensure proper linkages between key organisations, an historic environment group has been set up, chaired by Cadw officials. In its early meetings, one of its first tasks was to look at guidance being prepared by the Assembly for local authorities and their partners in developing community strategies and, particularly, the contribution of the historic environment to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their areas. I was glad to have the opportunity last week in Builth Wells to consider this guidance further, in a meeting with Sue Essex and local authority chief officers.

The historic environment group is also considering the potential for an integrated approach by key organisations in raising the profile of the historic environment as an educational tool, initially in schools. Much good work is already being done. For example, Cadw provides free visits for school children and organisations such as the National Trust and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales are also very active in this area. However, the group has identified the need for a more strategic approach. As a start, it will identify specific needs and priorities with a view to developing web materials and linkages with resource such as the national grid for learning. This will be taken forward in future meetings of the group. Encouraging schoolchildren to take an active interest in local and national history will help develop an informed appreciation of the importance of the historic monuments, buildings and landscapes that are a part of our lives. This is something that schoolchildren will hopefully take into their adult lives.

Labour’s careful management of the economy, in Wales and across the UK, has ensured high levels of employment, in stark contrast to the Tory years of mass unemployment. However, one of the by-products of near full employment is the presence of skills shortages. The group therefore has been tasked so that there is a suitably skilled and equipped workforce to support our agenda. In particular, I want to ensure that we have the specialist craft skills in place.

It is important that ownership, in its widest sense, of the historic environment is not left exclusively to statutory bodies. In my statement last year, I focused on community initiatives. Cadw is developing its civic grants scheme and, together with the Civic Trust for Wales, I am pleased to announce today a new design award. The trust’s design awards scheme seeks to reward excellence in design for new build and for historic building conservation. This will now include a new Assembly Government award that will recognise good design in allowing access for disabled people to historic buildings. The Assembly Government has published guidance on access in ‘Overcoming the Barriers’, and the new award will reflect the priorities of that guidance and will celebrate excellence in the field. I am pleased that the Assembly is able to participate in this way, and I hope that civic societies and local access groups will join forces to ensure a high level of applications.

I am keen that locally important buildings that are derelict or at risk are brought back into active community use, particularly to encourage more healthy and active lifestyles. Through our partners—the Sports Council for Wales and the Heritage Lottery Fund—we have been working closely with local communities and statutory bodies to identify potential buildings. I anticipate being able to announce some pilot schemes shortly.

Voluntary organisations such as local building preservation trusts, have proved successful in turning important historic buildings from derelict shells to restored buildings once again with a long and viable use. When I addressed the national conference of the Association of Preservation Trusts a year or so ago, I learned much of the value of the movement. I am delighted that, with the appointment of a dedicated worker for Wales, part funded by the Assembly, that the number of trusts in Wales is increasing.

There is a great need to raise awareness of our historic environment and of its importance and value in social and economic terms. The Assembly is doing much, and we plan to do more by strengthening the organisation of our built heritage resource. Cadw has always been an integral part of the Welsh Assembly Government, reporting directly to me, but its status as an executive agency has created some confusion about this. Therefore, I announce that, from 1 July, its status will change to a directorate, similar to the culture directorate and Cymal, which are similarly within my portfolio. Next year, it will become part of the new and integrated culture department which is to be established.

There are three other publicly sponsored bodies working in this area—the Historic Buildings Council, the Ancient Monuments Board, and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments. Although Cadw will retain its name for trading and operational purposes, we intend to unify the published outputs and presentation work of the four bodies under the title Historic Wales/Cymru Hanesyddol, so that common themes and objectives are better understood. Of course, most of the historical assets in Wales are not in public ownership. While the Assembly and our colleagues in local authorities own considerable numbers of these assets, more are held by trusts, by faith-based groups and by private individuals. We can provide statutory protection for the most significant parts of them, and financial and technical advice for their preservation for future generations to enjoy, but the management of our historic environment must be a joint effort involving all of the people of Wales. It is with the intention of creating greater public awareness and knowledge that we have embarked upon the initiatives that I have described.