[ACNS] A new law approved last week by the devolved legislature in Wales to protect the nation’s historic built heritage has been welcomed by the Church in Wales. The Historic Environment (Wales) Act will become law next month when it receives Royal Assent.
Churches and ancient monuments in churchyards are amongst aspects of the historic environment in Wales that will receive extra protection under the new law.
Once it comes into effect, the new Act includes powers to take urgent action to stop unauthorised work to historic sites and to prevent historic buildings from falling into disrepair.
Under the Act, Wales will become the first country in the UK to put historic environment records on a statutory footing – a measure that stakeholder groups have been calling for across the United Kingdom. These records allow advice on decisions by planning authorities and land managers to be based on sound information. They will also provide access to the new list of historic place names in Wales – another first for Wales.
“The Church in Wales owns 1,352 churches actively continuing worship and ministry across Wales, two-thirds of which are listed buildings,” a provincial spokesperson said. “147 of these are Grade 1 Listed buildings (29 per cent of all Grade 1 Listed buildings in Wales) which include our six Cathedrals.
“Many of our churches are regularly open to the public and together attract two million visitors each year.”
The new law will also simplify some of the systems in place for the management of scheduled monuments and listed buildings by allowing owners to enter into voluntary heritage partnership agreements with consenting authorities.
It will make it more difficult for individuals who damage protected monuments to escape prosecution by pleading ignorance of a monument’s status or location.
It will allow the development of a system of preservation notices and will give local authorities new ways to recover their costs when they have to take direct action.
Also included in the statute is the creation of an independent panel to provide Welsh Ministers with expert advice on policy and strategy; the introduction of a formal consultation process with owners of buildings or monuments before a decision to protect them is made; and an extension of the definition of what can be protected as an ancient monument so that some battlefield sites and prehistoric settlements can now be included.
“We congratulate the Welsh Government on the completion of this Bill,” the head of property services for the Church in Wales, Alex Glanville, said. “The consultative and preparatory work behind it has been exemplary and we look forward to working with the Welsh Government on aspects arising from the Bill – in particular future guidance on ecclesiastical buildings and the newly formed Welsh Places of Worship Forum.”
The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates, said, “Wales’ rich historic environment extends beyond our well-known ancient monuments and historic buildings. It also includes historic parks and gardens and our country’s great legacy of historic place names, both of which will, for the first time, be placed on statutory registers.
“Our heritage tells the fascinating story of our past; it brings social and cultural benefits; and it makes a significant contribution to our economy through tourism. It is something that people really care about. We often see anger and concern when people are made aware of the deliberate neglect of a listed building or the careless destruction of a scheduled monument.”
He said that the new law had resulted from “extensive conversations with heritage professionals, voluntary organisations and the public” which “gave us a clear idea of the challenges and the need for effective and flexible mechanisms for how we manage change.
“I am proud that in passing this Bill we are giving greater protection to our historic environment, raising awareness of its significance and supporting its sustainable management. Our outstanding historic sites and buildings need this protection so that they can continue to fascinate and inspire people for generations to come.”