Historic England - Its Role in Heritage Protection

Historic England is the Government's statutory adviser on the historic environment.

Corporate entity

Officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, Historic England is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Its powers and responsibilities are principally set out in the National Heritage Act 1983 (1). It reports to Parliament through the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Historic England works with a range of Government departments, notably DCMS, DLUHC and DEFRA, to help realise the potential of the historic environment.

Historic England is funded in part by the Government and in part from revenue earned from other services it provides.

The work of Historic England is overseen by a Chair and a board of up to sixteen Commissioners selected by the Government for the breadth of their expertise. The Commission is, in turn, advised by advisory committees and panels made up of experts drawn from the Commission and outside the organisation.

Information on the historic environment

Historic England holds the List of Buildings, the Schedule of Monuments, the Register of Parks and Gardens and the Register of Historic Battlefields. These are accessible to the public through the National Heritage List for England (2).

Historic England holds the largest public archive for the historic environment. It contains over 10 million items including photographs, documents, plans and reports relating to the historic environment of England. There are over 4 million aerial photographs, including many films taken from 1945 onwards by the RAF and Ordnance Survey.

Historic England is responsible for keeping the Historic Environment Record for Greater London. Outside London these records are usually held by the unitary local authority or the county council.

Role in designation

Historic England administers:

  1. The List of Buildings
  2. The Schedule of Monuments
  3. The Register of Parks and Gardens
  4. The Register of Historic Battlefields

Role in the planning system

Local planning authorities are obliged to consult Historic England on certain planning and listed building consent applications, as set out in legislation e.g in "Arrangements for Handling Heritage Applications - notification to Historic England and National Amenity Societies and the Secretary of State (England) Direction 2015". Local planning authorities may seek advice on other cases where they would benefit from Historic England’s expertise on historic environment matters. Historic England may offer advice on a matter that it has become aware affects the historic environment even though it has not been formally consulted.

Historic England will advise the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on matters it believes ought to be considered for call-in for his own determination.

Historic England may advise on nationally significant infrastructure projects, planning appeals and applications called-in for the Secretary of States' own determination.

Historic England provides advice to Government on the implications for the historic environment of all new planning law and policy developments.

Heritage 2020

The Heritage 2020 Framework sets out how heritage organisations across England can work to gather in the coming years to add value to the work of individual bodies. The Historic England Action Plan sets out the contribution of Historic England to Heritage 2020.

Heritage at Risk

Historic England compiles the Heritage at Risk Register annually. It is an official statistic. Historic England offers advice on how to deal with sites on the register and others facing risk.

Conservation advice and guidance

Historic England offers advice and information on a number of issues ranging from maintenance of historic buildings through to conserving the historic environment by managing change within it.

Grant funding

Historic England has a number of grant schemes designed to help with the protection and promotion of the historic environment.

Online information

Historic England maintains a number of websites providing online information and guidance relating to the historic environment and the heritage protection system:

  1. HistoricEngland.org.uk: portal access to all Historic England held guidance and information including the National List for England (2).  
  2. www.heritagegateway.org.uk: Heritage Gateway provides portal access to all national and some local online sources of information on the historic environment of England.
  3. www.pastscape.english-heritage.org.uk: Pastscape provides access to nearly 420,000 records of historic buildings and sites held within the National Monuments Record.
  4. www.imagesofengland.org.uk: Images of England is a ‘point in time’ photographic library of England’s listed buildings, recorded at the turn of the 21st century containing over 300,000 photographs together with the official list description of the building.
  5. www.viewfinder.historicengland.org.uk: Viewfinder provides access to those photographs within the National Monuments Record that have so far been digitised. They date from the 1850s and are a resource for people interested in England's social, industrial, architectural and archaeological history.
  6. Historic England Images: Historic England photographs for purchase.
  7. www.heritage-explorer.org.uk: Heritage Explorer provides teaching resources based on historic photographs.
  8. www.heritageopendays.org.uk: Information and advice on how to take part in Heritage Open Days.
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