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Author English Heritage draft consultation.
AR

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English Heritage draft consultation.
Posted: 16/06/2010 15:18:36
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derrickman wrote:

I don't wish top appear to be completely negative about them, but my honest opinion of EH is that they would be best employed doing what they do best, which is designing and commissioning high-profile tourist attractions at sites like Whitby Abbey.



So who do you think should instead be carrying out the statutory functions EH currently do around listing of important buildings and significant archaeological/historical sites? Part of the problem with EH as it is now and its structure is that it was created out of several entities with different functions and responsibilities. For example what you've described above is the old ministry of works job of maintaining and promoting important sites in national ownership, but this still leaves the duty to identify and give protection to important sites and buildings. There was the historical split between buildings, which gained protection through the listing process, and monuments, which could be pretty much anything and gain their protection through scheduling. There's been more and more overlap between the two in recent years, with the resultant grey areas and demarcation squabbles, but going back to having separate entities responsible would only result in even more of the above.

I'll say this to everyone knocking EH on this thread - they are corporately putting their hand up and admitting gaps in their knowledge, and actively soliciting the help of people and organisations that can help fill the gaps. They could instead have taken the line that as their budget is going to be slashed there's no point in trying to expand and they should instead concentrate on "core responsibilities", push the tourist attractions to generate cash and leave decisions on uncertain areas entirely at the discretion of individual officers without anything other than that officer's personal experiences and preferences to base that on.

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derrickman

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Posted: 16/06/2010 15:27:39
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I'd say your second paragraph sums the situation up quite well.

Their budget will undoubtedly be squeezed in coming months and years, and they will not have the time or resources to expand. If they can stand still, I'd be surprised.



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AR

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Posted: 16/06/2010 15:53:01
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On re-reading what I've written, I think "improve" would be a better description than expand - there's certainly going to be a lot less money available for grants and research projects, so the emphasis for them now is trying to be better at carrying out their statutory functions.

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skippy

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Posted: 16/06/2010 16:30:07
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Slightly off-topic, but at a recent Conservation Officers meeting, where EH were represented at a fairly high level, the CO's were on the attack, accusing EH of being elitist. We've heard comment from senior EH officials requesting that they don't have contact with officials at CO level, and that they only wish to deal with senior planning or executive council officials. There does seem to be a big problem within the organisation - Thurley and his nice wifey swanning around 'being important' and wasting large sums of public money on ridiculous pet projects (Kenilworth Castle being the biggest of them all - a national joke) whilst at grass roots level there are far too few officials - if I have to deal with a Grade 2* building in the Midlands, or heaven forbid a Grade 1, it can take over 12 months to even get someone to a meeting about it, and even then, they will not commit to anything. With even Conservation Officers ranting about them, what hope do we realistically have that they can even organise a p***-up in a brewery.

I'm probably at odds with myself here - I'd like to think of EH as an organisation that makes sense, but the reality is an elitist government quango, with very little effect at grass roots.



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derrickman

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Posted: 16/06/2010 16:44:12
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I'd have to agree with that.

their attitudes and actions at Rotherhithe Tunnel were high-handed in the extreme. They had the actual affect of greatly increasing the timetable and cost of the project ( and they weren't contributing to these costs in any shape or form ) for a benefit which was, to say the least, very limited.

I'm afraid that there are times when old things simply HAVE to be destroyed to make way for new ones. London's public transport network is not, in fact, a museum piece, although it does sometimes give that impression. There are also things EH could usefully concern themselves with at no great cost - LUL has some very nice art-deco stations in a sad state of neglect, for one thing - but this doesn't appear to be suficiently grandiose for their purposes.

my professional experience of them is of an rigid, elitist organisation which does things very slowly and at great cost when, and only when, it sees fit.

My honest opinion is that EH have no business concerning themselves with mining remains, and the actual effect will be a rash of closures and restrictions as land-owners take fright on 'Elf'n'safety grounds.

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Peter Burgess

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Posted: 16/06/2010 17:00:34
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Let's start a scare-mongering thread, shall we?

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derrickman

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Posted: 16/06/2010 17:41:35
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??

as far as I can see, EH appear to have few friends among those who deal with them professionally, in terms of their supposed function.

The suggestion that they might otherwise neglect less high-profile sites and concentrate on major tourist sites seems to me to be very largely what they do at present, and skippy's posts indicate that I'm not the only one of that opinion.

I'd like to be proven wrong on this, but I'd be highly sceptical that NAMHO will find themselves in anything other than an advisory role, ignored and over-ridden by EH's internal risk-aversion and empire-building



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Peter Burgess

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Posted: 16/06/2010 17:53:25
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There's nothing like making up your mind before the event to scupper the chances of an initiative working. Fun, isn't it?

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skippy

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Posted: 16/06/2010 19:14:44
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I'm afraid, Peter, I have to agree with Derrickman - it's exactly what I am experiencing on a daily basis in my work. I understand you want to give them the benefit of the doubt - we all would - but Peter - do you have to work with them daily? I have to ask this, because you seem to support them, whilst not having first hand experience of the problems we have in a practical way. Forgive me if you do... but that's the impression you give.

Scaremongering - about what?



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derrickman

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Posted: 16/06/2010 19:49:00
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I'm not saying EH don't do anything, because they do.

Whether they do it in a cost-effective manner, I would be open to anyone who has some real figures to demonstrate.

The new visitor centre at Whitby Abbey, for example, is a very impressive building making good use of the existing structure.

But from experience, I'd be very dubious how their visible activities fit in with a specialised niche activity like mining remains.

look around this forum; look at the threads about, say, ochre discharges from Cornish adits, pollution management at VoR, unstable sections in Croesor, delaminated sections of roof held up by scaffold poles in Mardon, 60m SRT pitches in Snailbeach, and ask yourselves what part of that fits into EH's methods?

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skippy

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Posted: 16/06/2010 20:03:46
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Cost effective....

At the same meeting mentioned, I asked an EH pal what the break up of money was for a project. Specifically, one project had a budget of around £2 million. I asked the breakdown of what actually went into bricks and mortar, and what was spent on consultants, reports, management.... She replied that the usual breakdown is 70:30... Only 30% being spent on the building.

I think most mine groups could make better use of that money??

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IP: 91.84.15.191
Peter Burgess

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Posted: 16/06/2010 20:17:31
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I am the coordinator for my club's activities in the underground sites in Reigate, which are primarily public tours. Two of these sites are SAMs, one being medieval. EH have always taken a hands off approach to what we do. When we wanted to extend one of the tours into a "wild" part of a sand mine, we asked their advice as we had to clear all the broken glass from the sand before we could allow visitors. The advice was that we should do a trial clearance and determine the age of any finds. If nothing found was older than 1900, they were happy for us to do what we saw as best in order to open up the section. They were happy for us to do the trial and to use whatever local experts we deemed necessary to date items found. There was no interference or bureacracy involved, other than requesting permission to excavate. Had we found anything of any antiquity I dare say they would have provided more advice on what to do, but from my experience I doubt it would have been a show stopper. Although I cannot be certain, I imagine PDMHS have had much the same experience at Magpie. Maybe someone who knows can confirm this. It is all about having a positive "can do" attitude at the end of the day.

If you complain that EH don't want to listen to good advice from you when it comes to the places you know, then isn't it ironic that when they DO want information and advice from us, you treat them in exactly the same way for which you criticise them, by deciding that we shouldn't deal with them. That's not a very constructive way forward, is it?

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Peter Burgess

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Posted: 16/06/2010 20:32:17
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The principal source of annoyance I find in the EH-bashing is that it has identified for me a risk that we could alienate a very helpful body which could do a great deal on our behalf in recognition of the historic underground value of mining sites. Just because they have proved a hindrance to commercial interests that you might have been involved in doesn't mean that they will behave the same way to voluntary bodies that share the same aims as EH - preservation and recording of old stuff.

I have seen the same thing with bat groups. Those of you who have had bad experiences with them probably can't understand how groups like my club have a very good working relationship with the local bat group, which is just as keen to dispel the idea that bat groups hate mine-explorers and want to curtail our activities in old mines.

I think our good relationship with the bat group, and the few times we have dealt positively with EH, are just possibly because we don't have this preconceived idea that all they want to do is stop us doing what we love doing, and we deal with them accordingly.

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skippy

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Posted: 16/06/2010 20:45:09
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I think you must be one of the few they've helped. Same thing for bats. I'm not commercial as such in that I have no personal interest in the outcome - I do run a building conservation company and have to deal with this stuff on a daily basis. All the bat groups do is stop people from repairing barns and old houses (to the extent that we just get rid of the bats and move them to the barn next door) and all EH do is put problems in front of you that cost huge amounts of money to sort, which the clients dont have.

I've personally never experienced them as a helpful body - thats the problem! I wish they were - the point of my posts has been that even the commercial partners - conservation officers etc that they are supposed to be supporting, find them UN helpful.

You must be one in a million - perhaps some local EH bod likes you Peter - you're lucky!!



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... but not the Mineral Rights...
IP: 91.84.15.191
Peter Burgess

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Posted: 16/06/2010 20:46:41
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I don't think it's luck.

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ttxela

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Posted: 16/06/2010 21:10:13
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Wasn't the Lead Rakes project funded by EH? A fantastic piece of work I thought.

I've worked with EH in the past, although admittedly not for a few years now. I found them quite helpful but then again we were working on projects where restoration of historic buildings was the main aim. Rather than just other works affecting them.

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AR

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Posted: 17/06/2010 15:45:47
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EH did fund the Lead Legacy through money raised from the aggregates levy. One strange quirk of that was that the printed version of the report had to be given away free!

OK Skippy and Derrickman, you've both have had negative experiences of EH. Did either of you make a formal complaint or representation to EH about what you saw as their failings to carry out their duties in a proper and professional manner?

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skippy

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Posted: 17/06/2010 16:02:17
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Mmmm..

That's a very hard one.. Problem is that I have to work with them on a daily basis so can't really afford to make enemies - also, how can you complain about off the record comments made by people in meetings, or statements that they prefer to work with senior personnel.. It's all so vague, but adds up to a general attitude. If their chief exec - Thurley - continues to act like the prize pratt that he so obviously is, you're never going to win that battle. I appreciate your comment - and I'm not known for sitting down and taking crap - I'll always complain if I think it will be useful (and usually do it in a way that is constructive) - but with EH - so hard - Its an ingrained attitude within the organisation. I can't do accents in a forum, but if you were to hear the 'eewwww.... how laaaarvely..... but I'm just sooooo busy with this awwwwfully important project... I'll have a look at your problem in a month or two .....' that comes from the birmingham office ... you'd want to take a 12 bore to someone.... Angry

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derrickman

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Posted: 17/06/2010 16:36:41
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generally speaking, I'm too far removed from the centre of things to be directly involved with them, and quite happy to stay there.

My experience of them tends to involve monitoring structures for distortion or settlement, particularly around Central London.

As a general comment, they appear to be staffed by archaeologists and academics of various descriptions, which is presumably why they spend so much money on consultants to tell them things they might be expected to know already.


oddly enough,they weren't involved at Combe Down. The impetus there came from HMIM ( regarding the MASHAM side of things ) and the Land Management people. None of the buildings appeared to be listed, which surprised me rather.

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AR

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Posted: 18/06/2010 12:16:40
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The reason I asked whether you complained or not is that like any large organisation, unless senior management are made aware of problems lower down they will assume there aren't any problems - I'm sure you both are familiar with the situation where as issues are passed up the chain of command, each time they get more of a gloss on them until they've ceased to become issues and nothing gets done to address them, if they get that far at all!

So... why not spoil Simon Thurley's day with a letter detailing the unprofessional behaviour you have experienced from his staff and the impact that behaviour has had? Make sure you cc the letter to the minister in charge of DCMS (whoever that now is) so that it doesn't get "overlooked", and if you really want to cause panic,try a carefully worded freedom of information request - there are still a lot of people in public bodies who haven't grasped that the public now have the right to request sight of anything they've written. Also, I can't speak for the historic buildings side of things but speaking as an archaeology graduate who's maintained his IfA associate membership, if you feel that an archaeologist who's a full IfA member ( MIFA, PIFA, or AIFA ) has acted in a way that brings the archaeological profession into disrepute then complain to the institute - the standards committee would have to investigate.

As for comments made in meetings that don't get minuted, there's the "can I clarify what you said in the meeting" email to drag such things into a fixed format - the culprit either has to deny that the comment was made (difficult if there were other witnesses) or backtrack.....




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