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Heritage Online Debate: The Northern Powerhouse
Dr Chris Cumberpatch
I have been working as an archaeologist in northern England since 1991 and have watched the assault on our museums and on our archaeological and built heritage grow steadily over that time, despite the efforts of campaigners to mitigate the impact of inappropriate and destructive development on the historic environment and to save valued local amenities and assets, including museums and HERs. In view of this I am profoundly disturbed by the Panglossian character of the statements published on the HE website and the lack of any view informed by the day-to-day realities of the current situation.
We are victims of a policy of disavowal in which central government seeks to place responsibility for cuts and sackings onto local authorities while the local authorities themselves place the blame on cuts to local government funding by central government. While these two pillars of government each race to deny responsibility, those of us working in the heritage sector see our museums being closed, our colleagues sacked or pushed into taking on responsibilities formerly split between two, three or even four individuals, funding for development control and curation being reduced year-by-year and facilities closed or downsized to an absurd level. In the case of museums, under-funding and under-staffing prevents access to the archaeological archives generated by developer-funded survey and excavation, thus severely restricting the use of these archives by researchers from the academic and voluntary sectors. In some cases the very survival of such archives is in peril. This problem will become more acute as the projects outlined in 'Connecting the Northern Powerhouse' continue or, in some cases, begin.
At the more general level, I do not see much sign of genuine 'debate' within the papers presented on the website, more a series of aspirational and programmatic statements which seem to focus on possibilities and potential rather than on the practical measures needed to address the many issues facing the historic environment in general and those of us who work within the sector in particular. Where are the dissident voices and the voices of those who have seen their museums closed, rural landscapes, urban townscapes and valued buildings sacrificed to the demands of short-term economic development and the facilitation of capital accumulation by remote, often multi-national or state-sponsored developers with little or no concern for local and regional heritage and distinctiveness?