Tuesday 23 December 2014
I truly believe that if we understand and value our history, we’ll be more likely to care about our future.
Our country is blessed with a rich historic environment encompassing archaeological sites, monuments and historic buildings, as well as the landscapes and townscapes in which they are found.
All across Wales, it illustrates how past generations have shaped our national culture and identity and creates regional and local distinctiveness, giving unique character to our communities.
Importantly, it also contributes substantially to our economy, supporting over 30,000 jobs, adding around £840 million to the nation’s economy and accounting for one-fifth of total tourism expenditure in Wales.
It is vital, therefore, that we have a clear, effective and flexible system to protect and sustain our historic environment so it can continue to bring economic, social and environmental benefits to the people of Wales.
This is why we have included a Heritage Bill in our Programme for Government, which at its heart is about protecting our past for the Wales of tomorrow.
I want to ensure that we manage the Welsh historic environment so that people can appreciate and learn from it for generations to come.
Wales’ historic environment is a precious but fragile resource
A site that has survived for centuries can be destroyed or irreparably damaged by a single careless act. Even seemingly insignificant changes can accumulate to obscure or destroy the historical significance of a monument, building or landscape.
Currently, nearly 30,000 buildings in Wales are listed and over 4,000 monuments are scheduled, giving them recognition as sites of national importance and protection through special consent procedures.
Although the existing systems to safeguard the Welsh historic environment are fundamentally sound, there are areas where protection can be enhanced or management improved.
The Heritage Bill will give more effective protection to scheduled monuments, creating new measures that will give the Welsh Government powers to prevent damage and make it easier to take action if a monument has been damaged or destroyed.
It will also enable local authorities to take immediate action if a listed building is under threat from unauthorised work.
Some of the Bill’s other provisions will:
- create a statutory register of Wales’ historic parks and gardens;
- allow owners of historic assets to negotiate partnership agreements with consenting authorities for a period of years. This will eliminate the need for repeated consent applications and encourage a more consistent and reasonable way of managing buildings or monuments;
- secure a more stable future for Wales’ historic environment records, which provide detailed information and advice on the historic environment to local planning authorities and the public;
- make existing structures for the designation of nationally important historic assets more open and transparent by introducing formal consultation with owners and establishing mechanisms to review decisions; and
- establish an independent panel to advise on historic environment policy and strategy at a national level in Wales.
Why do we need these changes?
While the historic environment needs to be protected, it cannot be frozen in time. Change is inevitable since the passage of years will take its toll on even the most substantial of monuments or buildings.
The historic environment is under pressure to respond to the requirements of modern life. To meet the challenges of the future without losing its special qualities, the historic environment will need to be managed carefully and sustainably.
The Heritage Bill aims to make that possible. Part of a suite of legislation, policy, advice and guidance, it will make important improvements to existing systems to better protect and sustainably manage our historic environment.
I am pleased that it will also introduce greater transparency and accountability in the decisions taken on our historic environment.
Passing this important Bill through the National Assembly will be a key priority for me in 2015. This will be the first ever heritage legislation specifically for Wales and will guide the sector for years to come.
I am looking forward to outlining my plans for the historic environment to the National Assembly in January and introducing the Bill to the Senedd in late spring.
By 2016, I hope the Bill will become law, bringing the many benefits outlined above to the historic environment and the people of Wales.
From boosting the economy, to providing opportunities for learning to making important contributions to regeneration, investment and renewed community confidence, our historic environment is something we must cherish.
It belongs to all of us and I am proud that we are taking necessary action to better protect it for future generations.