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Local Authority Capacity Loss NHPP 2E2

Research carried out 2011-2015 about the threat to local authorities’ capacity to protect and manage their historic environment. This work was part of the National Heritage Protection Plan

Colour image showing the exterior of Woolwich Town Hall
Woolwich Town Hall, London. The number of historic environment specialists advising local authorities has fallen by over 28% since 2006. © English Heritage

The scope of the activity

Local Authorities, and in particular their historic environment services, play a vital role in protecting and managing our heritage. Amongst other things, they support the planning process by seeking to ensure that decisions are based on accurate information relating to the impact on the historic environment.

They contribute to local plans and strategies to help local areas maximise the potential of their local heritage assets; and they work with local communities, helping them to engage with their local history. Through these types of activity they help make places more attractive to live and work.

However, the need for local government to make significant savings has placed many of these services under threat.

The Threat

  • Over the period 2011/12 to 2014/15, central government cut funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to local government by 27.4% in real terms.
  • Since 2006, the number of historic environment professionals (heritage experts) employed by local government fell by over 32%.
  • Whilst recognising that local authorities have to make significant savings in the delivery of all of their services, research suggested that heritage services were amongst the worst hit.


The work of this activity focused on finding out more about threats to heritage caused by the fall in resources committed to the protection of the historic environment by local government, and providing responses to these threats. This activity will develop responses that work with local government as they make necessary savings.

Archaeological finds stored in roller-racking
A review of local historic environment storage facilities forms part of Activity 2E2

Protection results

The intended protection results were to put in place place initiatives that support local authorities and communities, to help them to balance reduced funding with continued protection for their heritage and the opportunities for local growth that this can bring.

Projects in activity 2E2

Historic Environment: Local Authority Capacity: HELAC

HELAC is a joint initiative, which worked in partnership with five areas as they set about re-evaluating their local historic environment services. It led to the production of five case studies which show how different areas approached the problem of balancing the need to provide an effective, localist, service with restricted budgets.

Evaluating the historic environment in store

The lack of local archives to house and make available material collected by archaeological excavation, often carried out as part of the planning process, has been a long-standing cause for concern. This joint project in partnership with the Society of Museum Archaeologists and the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME), builds an accurate picture of the situation regarding the availability of local archaeological archives in 2012. See the project report on the Society of Museum Archaeologists website.

Collection and analysis of sector intelligence

In partnership with the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, English Heritage collects data on the level of historic environment expertise available to local government. That data allows us to identify the level of threat placed upon local heritage sites and buildings. The data for 2014 was published in July 2014. You can see the full report on the Historic England website.

Analysis of impact of shared local authority conservation services

This project looked into the risks and opportunities for local authorities sharing conservation services. The report on shared local authority conservation services is available to download from the Historic England website. It was based on a survey of a cross-section of authorities.

Review of heritage toolkits

This project will look at the different local government guidance and toolkits produced by English Heritage analysing their audiences, use and effectiveness.

Historic environment services scenario-led guidance

Much of the application of Historic Characterisation material (e.g. Historic Landscape Characterisation, Extensive Urban Survey) by local authorities directly relates to particular “scenarios” of specific sorts of change. Different scenarios affect fabric and character of the heritage and reflect its value or significance differently. Guidance was prepared that draws together experience and best practice established largely by local authorities in the fields of planning, land management, urban design, etc.

Including heritage in Local Authority Asset Management Plans

We comissioned NPS group to write a short report on good practice for Local Authorities including heritage in their Asset Management Plans (AMPs). These plans help local authorities to manage the buildings, structures and land in their care. We also supported two the writing of two such plans: the City of Lincoln Corporate Asset Management Plan and Manchester City Council Heritage Assets Strategy.

Enhancing local government historic environment capacity by embedding staff capacity

In addition to the above applied research projects, we provided financial support to individual local authorities through start up funding for additional historic environment posts in Dartmoor National Park, Wiltshire, Durham and Shropshire.

Links to other NHPP activities

Activity 2E2 interfaces with a number of other NHPP activities, including:

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