We need to be able to understand the world that we live and work in today and how this might change in the future. We need foresight to anticipate and prepare for the impact and opportunities this could have for the historic environment so we can manage change more effectively and make our heritage more resilient. We research and analyse current and future trends in social, political and economic change; environmental and climate change science; land use, property and infrastructure development; as well as technological and technical innovations.
Change to the nation’s heritage is managed most significantly, in terms of numbers, through strategic land-use planning by local authorities, along with the process for obtaining planning permission and agreements on particular developments. Planning policy for local authorities, set by national government, aims to sustain and enhance the significance of heritage assets for future generations while allowing them to be adapted to meet the needs of today’s owners and occupiers. Historic England plays a direct role in maintain the National Heritage List for England, and advising on cases affecting some sites which have statutory protection. Getting this balance right needs informed judgment.
Research will have impact if it helps understand the effect that the tools at planners’ disposal have now or might have in the future. It will provide an evidence base to inform plan making and decision taking in the local planning system. It will highlight the link between development that is sensitive to local character and improves outcomes for places, and ensure that the historic environment is seen as a benefit and not a barrier to economic growth.
Central government set the overall policy direction and framework for the planning system operated by local government, and set regulation for specific issues, such as the redevelopment of former industrial or ‘brownfield’ development, and levels of housing development. Government also support the renewal of national infrastructure beyond the control of individual local authorities. The current National Infrastructure Plan is a substantial programme of construction that will have profound effects on the historic environment. In the 2016 Autumn Statement the Government announced a series of measures designed to further stimulate housing growth and to catalyse the renewal of our national infrastructure. These included £2.6 billion for improvements in transport projects designed to reduce journey times; £740 million to support the roll out of fibreoptic broadband; and an increase in central government investment in infrastructure of 60% between 2016-17 and 2020-21. Together they represent a substantial programme of construction that will have profound effects on the historic environment.
Research will have impact if it provides an evidence base and toolkit to inform our response to planned infrastructure investment, projects and individual schemes.
Over 84% of England’s scheduled monuments are on agricultural land. Farmers are the owners and managers of most of the nation’s historic landscapes and archaeological sites. Changes to land use and land management practices, which in most cases do not need planning permission, continue to be the biggest cause of degradation and loss to our irreplaceable rural heritage. Central government agricultural policy also has an impact. For example, the target to increase the extent of woodland cover will have a particular impact on buried archaeological sites, the great majority of which are not protected by scheduling. Research will provide foresight. It will have impact if it helps us anticipate where land management change is likely to occur in the medium term, develop improved protection and mitigation strategies and prioritise statutory protection for sites that are most at risk or underrepresented in the National Heritage List for England. There are also great opportunities for research to provide evidence to influence and change land management practices to the benefit of the historic environment, wider environment, agriculture and the economy.
We know that our environment has always changed. The climate has fluctuated, coastlines have shifted, ocean currents moved, sea levels gone up and down and watercourses flooded. People have adapted to those changes and we see the traces of these adaptations in the archaeological record and in the structures and landscapes that make up our environment today. However, it is clear that current climate change, driven by human activity, is causing environmental changes at a rate that has not been seen for millennia. The speed of climate change is a ‘risk multiplier’ of the natural processes that have always affected heritage assets. Responses to climate change as people seek to slow or prevent some processes, and adapt to the changing environment can also have unintentional harmful effects. Conversely, finding new uses for historic buildings retains the embodied energy used decades or centuries ago in their construction, avoiding the additional carbon emissions needed to replace them with new buildings. Research will have impact if it helps us assess and respond to the direct and indirect effects of climate change upon different sorts of heritage site. It will provide evidence of how people are adapting to environmental change and how that might affect heritage, how we can best conserve heritage in light of these effects; and the positive opportunities heritage can present in understanding, reducing, and adapting to environmental change.
The value of England’s heritage is not judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft or vandalism on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen or damaged. ‘Heritage crime’ is any offence that harms the value of England’s heritage assets, and their settings, to this and future generations. Examples include lead theft from church roofs, or illegal metal detecting on scheduled monuments. Our focus is heritage crime affecting listed buildings or other designated sites, or objects or material removed from them illegally. Heritage crime will often have both a direct impact, such as broken windows or stolen artefacts, and an indirect impact such as the sense of loss felt by the community through the damage to a familiar and loved place, or economic impact from loss of its amenity value. Research will have impact if it helps us to: minimize the effect of heritage crime by providing a better understanding of the scale and extent of the problem; plan effective prevention and enforcement measures; improving crime prevention measures on heritage sites; and enhances the opportunities to investigate and identify offenders.
We live in a society which is changing with increasing rapidity. Many aspects of societal change will drive change to and adaptation of the historic environment in response. These largescale drivers include the size and demographic profile of the population, migration into and within the country, broadening diversity of faith and belief, the sense of personal identity, changing technology, governance and the strength of community and civil society. These are large-scale and wide-reaching influences, so we must be realistic in our expectations to manage their impacts on heritage. However, research to understand and anticipate change will have impact if it can help us to plan for the future, and predict where the greatest and most imminent risks and opportunities might be, and to assess the sector’s capacity to respond.