A Bill to make History – Legislation to protect Wales’ past to become law
The first Wales-only legislation to improve the protection and management of Wales’ unique historic environment has today been passed by the National Assembly for Wales.
When it becomes law, the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill will introduce new measures to protect Wales’ historic environment.
It will make it more difficult for individuals who damage protected monuments to escape prosecution by pleading ignorance of a monument’s status or location.
It will also introduce new powers to take urgent action to stop unauthorised work to historic sites and to prevent historic buildings from falling into disrepair.
For example, it will allow the development of a system of preservation notices and will give local authorities new ways to recover their costs when they have to take direct action.
Once the Bill is law, Wales will also become the first country in the UK to put historic environment records on a statutory footing – a measure that stakeholder groups having been calling for across the UK.
These records allow advice on decisions by planning authorities and land managers to be based on sound information. This stands in sharp contrast to the crisis that, many argue, is confronting archaeological services across England as local authorities are forced to make wide-ranging cuts.
The records will also provide access to the new list of historic place names in Wales – another first for Wales.
Welcoming the passing of the landmark Bill by the National Assembly, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates, said:
“Wales’ rich historic environment extends beyond our well-known ancient monuments and historic buildings. It also includes historic parks and gardens and our country’s great legacy of historic place names, both of which will, for the first time, be placed on statutory registers.
“Our heritage tells the fascinating story of our past; it brings social and cultural benefits; and it makes a significant contribution to our economy through tourism. It is something that people really care about. We often see anger and concern when people are made aware of the deliberate neglect of a listed building or the careless destruction of a scheduled monument.
“The Bill has been the result of extensive conversations with heritage professionals, voluntary organisations and the public. This gave us a clear idea of the challenges and the need for effective and flexible mechanisms for how we manage change.
“I am proud that in passing this Bill we are giving greater protection to our historic environment, raising awareness of its significance and supporting its sustainable management. Our outstanding historic sites and buildings need this protection so that they can continue to fascinate and inspire people for generations to come.”
The Bill will also simplify some of the systems in place for the management of scheduled monuments and listed buildings by allowing owners to enter into voluntary heritage partnership agreements with consenting authorities.
It will also:
• Create an independent panel to provide the Welsh Ministers with expert advice on policy and strategy;
• Introduce formal consultation with owners of buildings or monuments before a decision to protect them is made;
• Extend the definition of what can be protected as an ancient monument to include some battlefield sites and prehistoric settlements.
Justin Albert, National Trust Director for Wales said:
“We are an exceptionally proud custodian of some of Wales’s most iconic historic environments. Protecting our national treasures on a statutory basis is to be welcomed and secures them as places of wonder and enjoyment for everyone for generations to come.
“The whole heritage sector has participated in developing this legislation which we feel can bring great benefits in delivering a growing and vibrant tourist industry and jobs, skills and resources for all of us in Wales.
“Sustaining and enhancing our historic environment will undoubtedly show the world what a proud, caring and forward-thinking country we are – a country that people will be eager to visit and share with us.”
Alongside the Bill, new policy, advice and guidance will be published following consultation.
It complements goals set out in the recently passed Environment (Wales) Bill, the Planning (Wales) Act and the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
The Bill will become an Act when it receives Royal Assent in March 2016.
Over 30,000 jobs are supported by our historic environment and it adds around £840 million to the nation’s economy, accounting for one-fifth of total tourism expenditure in Wales.
No case underlines more clearly how precious and vulnerable the historic environment is than the serious damage done to a well-preserved section of the 1,200 year old Offa’s Dyke in 2013. Cases such as this demonstrate how well-known monuments that have survived centuries can be lost almost overnight.
There were 119 cases of damage to scheduled monuments recorded between 2006–2012, with only on successful prosecution.
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