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 Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Its powers and responsibilities are principally set out in the National Heritage Act 1983 (ref. 1). It reports to Parliament through the Secretary of State for 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 16 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, and also holds the Register of Parks and Gardens and the Register of Battlefields. All of these are accessible to the public through the National Heritage List for England (ref. 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

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 and directions, including the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) 2015 and the "Arrangements for Handling Heritage Applications - notification to Historic England and National Amenity Societies and the Secretary of State (England) Direction 2021". 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 Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 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 at Risk

Historic England compiles the Heritage at Risk Register annually. The Register contains sites which have been identified as being most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development . 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. This advice is available on the Historic England website.

Grant funding

Historic England has a number of grant schemes designed to help with the protection and promotion of the historic environment. For more information please see the Assistance for Owners page.

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 Heritage List for England (ref. 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.heritageopendays.org.uk: Information and advice on how to take part in Heritage Open Days.