Heritage Assets – Can’t pay, Won’t Pay
Hugh Sullivan argues that Council plans to look after Hastings’ heritage rely on others being persuaded to provide the funding
In 2016 Hastings Borough council commissioned a report by ‘historic environment’ consultants Drury McPherson on management of ‘heritage assets’ in the town – not just historic buildings but also ‘intangible’ events such as Jack-in-the-Green and the Bonfire Parade. They took soundings from many stakeholders, invited public comments, and eventually came up with a list of twenty-one recommendations ranging from the mundane – increasing signage in the town centre directing pedestrians to sites such as the castle, Old Town and museum – to the radically ambitious – removing through traffic from the centre, seafront and Old Town and reducing car parking on the seafront. The Council’s management of the castle came in for particular scrutiny: they were urged to seek a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to finance a ‘re-presentation’ to the public of the wider castle site. There were also recommendations to develop a new visitor centre at Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve and a visitor hub in the town centre ‘to provide orientation and information’.
A formal Heritage Strategy document was subsequently prepared by the council and put forward to its cabinet earlier this month by Kevin Boorman, Marketing and Major Projects Manager, where it was unanimously endorsed by both Labour and Conservative councillors.
The document sets out a grandiose ‘vision’: Hastings is summarised as ‘a proudly independent, diverse, historic and beautiful maritime town at the heart of 1066 country’. However, the document is wholly devoid of any specific commitments or statements of priority. It does not indicate which, if any, of Drury McPherson’s recommendations will be pursued. Instead it proposes the following ‘broad actions to protect and maximise use of the town’s heritage:’
• exploring external funding opportunities (in other words looking for someone else to pay);
• continuing our enforcement powers to ensure owners of heritage assets and buildings fulfill their obligations (forcing someone else to pay);
• working with private and community partners to maintain and manage heritage assets and develop and improve their sustainability (increasing their capacity to pay for themselves); working with partners such as Historic England, East Sussex County Council, Arts Council England and the Foreshore Trust to promote and maintain our heritage (sharing out responsibilities).
To be fair, the document goes on to state that ‘significant actions in this area’ will be reflected in the Council’s annual corporate plans. But it is difficult to see how endorsement of the Strategy document will have assisted in directing these plans in any meaningful way, other than emphasising that there is a certain hollowness in the claims to ‘proud independence’. In reality, the council has informed the town’s residents, if they weren’t already aware, that protection and practical exploitation of the town’s heritage is mainly down to others who, it is hoped, will drum up the financial resources that it lacks.
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