Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Groves - a missed opportunity to protect our heritage

Tomorrow night, campaigners to preserve our heritage will meet in St Margaret's Church, Rhosddu, at 7.30pm to hear what we can do to save important buildings and stop our town being wrecked.The focus will naturally be on the Groves School building, which the council decided to demolish on January 12 without consultation or notice.

Without the passionate and intelligent campaigning of the Save our Heritage group, the Groves School building would be rubble by now. SoH has forced the council to await a decision on listing by CADW, something which is imminent.

But it's also worth reminding ourselves of a missed opportunity in the Assembly just a month after the demolition announcement.

The Historic Environment Bill was passed on February 9th to allow protection for listed buildings. But opposition parties, including Plaid Cymru, argued that the Bill didn't go far enough in protecting buildings that weren't listed but were of local importance. The bill had guidelines for buildings not listed but these aren't statutory, as we wanted and the Committee scrutinising the Bill recommended “We recommend that the Bill is amended to require local authorities to prepare and maintain lists of historic assets of special local interest and that the Deputy Minister brings forward an amendment at Stage 2 to give effect to this.” 

All the opposition parties supported making the local lists statutory but Labour voted against and, as such, it was rejected.

The minister in charge of the environment and piloting the bill through the Assembly was Clwyd South AM Ken Skates. He said this during the debate:

“The amendments specify that the register would be a material consideration in planning determinations. Such an explicit statement would sit awkwardly in planning legislation, let alone in a Bill that is concerned with the historic environment. Contrary to the aims of the recent Planning (Wales) Act 2015, these amendments would certainly increase complexity in the planning system. They would also place additional demands on the capacity and resources of local authorities. The amendments would permit the public to nominate grounds for inclusion on the local register, which could easily be used to frustrate legitimate development. I also fear that systems that are already in place to manage grounds of local importance—for example, town and village green and disposal of playing fields regulations—could be undermined by these amendments.”

So there we have it. The opposition parties wanted to strengthen the protection for our historic heritage and the minister refused to allow local communities to nominate buildings for inclusion on a local heritage register. Here's what Plaid Cymru's heritage spokesperson Bethan Jenkins AM said: 

I think it is a missed opportunity for a radical change in the sector. If you want to put a press release out saying ‘We’ve completed all our laws this term’; well, I’d rather have effective and well-developed laws as opposed to just having a piece of paper. I will tell you that we will be back here - even if it’s not me, there will be Assembly Members back here looking at this issue again because it was not prioritised within Welsh Government as it should have been, and you should have fought for that, Minister.”

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