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Enhancing the Capabilities of Historic Environment Records NHPP Activity 5C1

Details of work carried out 2011-2015 to support Historic Environment Records (HERs). These services channel and support research and play a key role in providing information about heritage to those making decisions as part of the planning process.

A modern photograph showing a watering point for a steam wagon
HERs hold a variety of data such as this local listing example: Late 19th century steam wagon watering point, Great Sutton, Cheshire West and Chester. © Cheshire HER reference DCH9555.

Scope of the activity

Historic Environment Records (HERs) are services that aim to give public access to comprehensive and up to date information about the historic environment of a particular geographic area. They use a variety of sources of information, including data from the planning process, local groups, universities and members of the public. HERs combine these sources to make them available in one place.

The Government’s planning reform, the National Planning Policy Framework, makes it clear that local planning authorities should have up to date evidence about the historic environment and either maintain or have access to a HER.

We therefore supported the provision and development of HERs to ensure that the fruits of previous research in the form of useful, appropriate and accurate information is easily available to those making planning decisions that will affect the future of our historic environment.

Building on the results of the popular Developing Historic Environment Records for the 21st Century (HER21) programme, we worked towards promoting better standards of access, integration and content for historic environment data in Local Planning Authorities. We did this by encouraging the development of new approaches to interoperability of data storage systems, data sharing, online access and coverage.

Modern photograph showing a 19th century church constructed of corrugated iron
Example of a local listing held by an Historic Environment Record: St. Philip's Church, Betchton, Cheshire East. 19th century corrugated Iron Church. Cheshire HER reference DCH9342 © Cheshire HER

Expected protection results

This activity aimed to increase the value and usability of HERs as the main source for all designated and undesignated historic environment information for the purposes of planning, at strategic and neighbourhood levels.

Image showing a detached house with the curved lines and flat roofs of the
Whitegates, Willaston, Cheshire West and Chester. An example of the interwar “International Modern” style; included in a local listing project. © Cheshire HER reference DCH9498.

Projects in this activity

Develop outcomes framework and review HER audit process

Benchmarks provide a mechanism that helps individual HERs to measure themselves against a published set of performance measures. Audits enable HERs to self-assess their structure, staffing, content and compliance with data standards quality. Working with key partners, we will develop new approaches to HER assessment, integrating them with a realigned audit process. To this end we carried out a consultation on the audit process. The results contributed towards the design of an online audit tool and have informed the decision to create an Outcomes Framework that will replace the benchmarking system. This will help HERs measure and give evidence for how they contribute to local priorities. We now have a draft HER Outcome Related Framework for testing.

Develop and implement tools to support interoperability

Ensuring that decision-makers have access to accurate and appropriate information on the historic environment is critical. We are exploring ways in which we can support data access and sharing by enabling information systems to talk to each other and through the development of new tools and processes.

As part of this work, we commissioned the Archaeology Data Service to update the existing FISH (Forum on Information Standards in Heritage) Interoperability Toolkit, to help the sharing and validation of historic environment records.

We also commissioned Devon County Council to lead on a project looking at issues involved in data supply and reconciliation between English Heritage's National Record of the Historic Environment and HERs. You can see a report outlining the initial findings.

HERs and local engagement

We are committed to promoting ways in which Historic Environment professionals can involve local communities in their work and decision making. To this end, we looked at the potential impact social media could make on achieving that goal. Together with digital media agency Sound Delivery, supported by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), we ran a series of training workshops.

HER case studies

We are developing case studies and exemplar material for use by HERs to connect with local communities to increase awareness and understanding of HERs, to recognise and overcome barriers that may deter communities from using them, and stimulate and engage local interest.

We have five case studies on HER use of social media, that cover best practice in this field. You can find out more about the case studies by clicking on the links to interim PDF documents below.

Conservation officer case studies

To help explain the results of the HER21 scheme, we supported the publication of a series of articles about collaborative working and good practice between conservation officers and HERs, in Context, the magazine of the IHBC. All articles are available to HER Forum members as PDFs on that forum.

Informing the Future of the Past presented as a wiki

We supported a project to make the Informing the Future of the Past guidelines for Historic Environment Records available as a wiki. This format allows multiple people to edit the contents, and for individual sections to be updated more easily. The wiki was set up by the Archaeology Data Service in collaboration with the Association of Local Government Officers.

The next stage is a major revision of the content to bring Informing the Future of the Past up-to-date and ensure it can continue to fulfil its essential role in supporting HERs.

Church of England HER project

The Church of England has the largest estate of historic buildings in the country, including 16,000 parish churches, which would benefit from a single digital management tool. We worked with the Church to investigate the potential for such a system.

Ongoing work during the plan period 

We continued to increase the number of HERs that are cross-searchable on the Heritage Gateway website. We manage the website in partnership with ALGAO and IHBC and provides online access to national and local historic environment resources. 

We collaborated with our partners IHBC and ALGAO on the direction of our continued support for HERs into the new Historic England Action Plan.

Skills and training

We will continued to include dissemination and training elements in all the projects under this activity. We will make recommendations for formal and informal means of knowledge sharing and improving skills in the sector.

Image showing historic environment delegates at a training session
Historic Environment staff at a training workshop on using social media © English Heritage

Links to other activities

This activity links closely with:

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