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Friday, 29 May 2015

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Tynedale: Alarm over future of historic treasures

THE Government has been pressed to allay fears over the future of Tynedale’s historic tourist attractions – or face a public backlash.

Prudhoe Castle

The warning was issued by Prudhoe Mayor and leading county councillor Tony Reid as consultation got under way on plans to reform English Heritage, the publicly-funded body which looks after property on the national heritage register, including Housesteads Roman Fort, Prudhoe Castle, and Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport wants English Heritage to operate as a charity, funded by an £80m cash injection, instead of relying on taxpayers’ contributions.

It insists the move is not a step towards privatisation of the country’s heritage collection, and that sites will not be taken out of public ownership.

But concerns over the proposals have been raised by local councillors, and the Association of North-East Councils, which represents the region’s 12 local authorities.

In a written response to the consultation, ANEC questioned whether the charity would be sustainable in the long term, and whether heritage sites would receive required levels of investment.

ANEC said: “In terms of financial sustainability, there is a lack of detailed financial information in the consultation.

“We would not wish to see detriment to any part of the collection solely on the grounds of financial viability.

“This is an ambitious plan, with yet another organisation competing for the same sources of commercial and philanthropic funding as similar organisations.

“In the North-East there is concern over the protection of historic buildings that may not necessarily generate large amounts of income and instead rely on a subsidy, yet are nonetheless key to the collection and bring in wider economic and social benefits to the local community in terms of tourism.”

ANEC added that a move to charitable status could have some benefits, but stressed that local authorities are keen to work closely with DCMS and English Heritage on the proposals.

Coun. Reid said moves towards the privatisation of heritage sites would be a disaster.

He said: “A few years ago there were proposals to privatise the Forestry Commission. If that was to happen to heritage, when the wider public was to become aware, there would be a rebellion.

“When it comes to national heritage, people feel as though they have ownership of it. They feel assured that our national institutions will take care of it with tender loving care.

“We don’t want the sense of ownership that the public has to disappear. I clearly accept that in the current financial circumstances, the status quo of doing things has to be looked at, but any change must be appropriate.”

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The Government’s plans to create a new charity, to be called English Heritage, to manage the national heritage collection will not involve disposing of or downgrading any buildings or sites. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The £80m investment will be used to enhance and improve the collection, helping to secure its future for generations to come.”

English Heritage continues to play a key role in investment in the tourist industry across Tynedale.

A recent £650,000 investment programme at Housesteads, which involved contributions from the National Trust, saw improvements at the museum, fort and visitor centre.