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Reforms Needed To Protect Our Historic Buildings 15/11/2006

The nation's historic buildings face a future of stagnation and underuse without radical changes to the role of Historic Scotland and the management of our built heritage, according to the latest research paper from the Policy Institute.

In "Old Stones in a New Setting: Breathing New Life Into Scotlandís Built Heritage" Tom Miers argues for less regulation and a bigger role for local authorities and private organisations in the management of Scotland's historic buildings.

Miers, executive director of the Policy Institute, argues that because conservation of historic buildings is a low priority for voters, the Scottish Executive often fails to respond to public preferences on funding and regulation of the sector. The recent controversy surrounding Historic Scotland's refusal to support the renovation of Castle Tioram in Moidart is a classic example of central bureaucracy clashing with popular preference and private initiative.

In the paper, introduced by Professor Sir Alan Peacock, former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, Miers calls for a more flexible, innovative and less bureaucratic system of funding and management for Scotland's built heritage.

Miers said: "It's time to enlist the private sector to share its expertise and inventiveness both in managing sites and encouraging and educating the public to take an interest in built heritage. Historic Scotland would play a reduced and less contentious role as guardian of monuments and historic buildings of truly national importance. It would be encouraged to attract private investment so that its own funds could stretch wider to invest in new sites so far neglected."

He added: "The heritage sector should be exposed to innovation, experimentation and change, and government, local and national, should be more accountable for its decisions in this area of policy."


Independent operators

Historic Scotland and local authorities should offer contracts to independent institutions to manage their monuments and historic buildings. To maximise experimentation and competition, there should be a number of bidders of different types, including established charities such as the National Trust for Scotland and at least one profit making company. They would bid to operate each monument for a specific period, set out the level of subsidy (or rent) required and agree to maintain existing standards of conservation. This would create a market for heritage contracts leading to lower costs, innovative uses for buildings, new visitors and more effective methods of conservation. In the long term direct state subsidy could fall away.

Devolved responsibility

More decisions on heritage should be devolved to the local level. This will reflect differing regional priorities and be more responsive to citizens' choices. The Scottish Executive and its agencies would continue to have responsibility over monuments of national importance while local authorities would have responsibility for monuments of local and regional importance.


The Executive should use economic tools to value historic buildings. This would help to inform central and local government decision making. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland would be a suitable agency to undertake such a task.

Less regulation

Designation of buildings should be simplified with listing and shceduling being combined. Scheduled buildings should receive the same protection as A listed buildings. The B and C listed categories should be amalgamated. These designations should be time limited and the designating authority would have to re-list buildings and monuments on a regular basis.

Replace grants with tax breaks

Grants should be replaced with tax breaks for maintenance or preservation work carried out by listed building owners. The incentive would increase with the level of designation. This would create a resource available to all those looking after historic buildings and monuments and avoid the need for time consuming applications and assessments. It would also force government to share the cost of regulation by exposing it to a loss of revenue every time it imposed a designation.

Old Stones In A New Setting is available in full from the Research & Publications page of this web site.
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