MOLA Taryn Nixon and English Heritage‘s Nigel Barker

MOLA meets English Heritage‘s Nigel Barker

MOLA team

Nigel Barker is English Heritage’s Director of Planning and Conservation. Taryn Nixon, MOLA Chief Executive, met with him to find out about the latest thinking in English Heritage (EH) about key issues for London and the implications of announcements, following the Government spending review that EH will restructure in 2015.

TN There are huge pressures to build new housing to meet the fast growing London population. What does EH London see as the key issues?

NB There is a ‘storm’ of issues challenging the capacity of London in terms of its historic environment. The most obvious issues are ‘building tall’ and increasing building densities. One of London’s great attractions, alongside its dynamism and variety, is its mix of new and old. For us the key concern is the lack of strategic overview of what the city should look like in 20 years’ time.

TN So how is EH preparing?

NB Our objective is to work more strategically, more effectively and closer to the GLA. There’s a natural affinity with the GLA around culture and we’re working on gaining real understanding at a deeper level of what a tremendous asset the historic environment is. We know we need infrastructure and development but London’s world city status will not be retained if the historic environment is not part of the equation.

TN  Practically, then, what is EH doing?

NB EH in London is preparing a response, ‘London’s Dynamic’ (working title) to Boris Johnson’s Mayoral vision for London. To build a good dialogue we want to work with the GLA so we’re setting up a workshop involving our London Advisory Committee (LAC) and the GLA’s Planning and Culture teams.

TN Just as ‘archaeology’ is often perceived to be ‘in the way’, EH is frequently perceived to be about preservation and protection. How do you go about changing that view?

NB Advocacy and explaining our function. For example the EH London Advisory Committee (LAC) is not a development control committee, it’s actually a pool of unrivalled expertise that’s available to help those making the decisions. There is a real opportunity to change understanding on this point. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act is also an opportunity - to develop and embed best practice. Collaboration, working through partnership agreements and management guidelines have now been given a bit of statutory recognition. Again, this is all about managing change. We have to keep reminding people that EH is about the active management of change, not simply about protection and preservation. To illustrate that, 90% of Listed Building Consent applications are passed.

Review announcements were a bit of a bombshell. Tell us about the 10% revenue cut and the proposed separation of EH’s properties and collections from its planning and protection functions.

NB The Planning and Conservation Department in EH has been restructuring for the last 18 months in response to the last Comprehensive Spending Review. After the Spending Review we took a root and branch approach, commissioned research, talked to stakeholders and put in a very clear, service-led structure. We now have ‘national expertise locally delivered’ through the nine regional teams. The Government consultation later this autumn on proposals as part of the spending review for 2015 is an opportunity for our partners and stakeholders to say what they value about what we do and we would urge everyone to participate in that consultation. From my perspective, we’re now in a very good shape for the new corporate structure, which is due to be in place by April 2015. The big challenge for us will be maintaining the ethos we now have as a result of our reorganisation into the new conservation and advice service.

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