‘Safeguard expertise’ heritage bodies urge

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HISTORIC buildings could be threatened if councils cut qualified staff, conservation bodies have warned.

The warning came after a report from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) published last Thursday highlighted called the heritage system ‘dysfunctional’. But Suffolk conservationists say the county is an example of good practice that should be protected.

Simon Cairns, director of the Lavenham based Suffolk Preservation Society said the level of councils’ conservation expertise in the county was acceptable but he warned: “If we have any further loss of staff, that picture would change. It is important that district councils don’t cut this front line area because our heritage buildings are important in Suffolk. They’re key to the county’s character and to encouraging inward investment.”

Martin Lightfoot, recently awarded an MBE for his work on historic buildings with several Bury St Edmunds organisations, said: “We’ve got very good conservation officers in Bury who are very well qualified and give very sound advice. If you have people with experience they know how old a building is, what it’s constructed with and how to repair it.”

However, as a member of the Building Preservation Trust’s national council he saw the situation in other areas.

“Problems like the CLA have highlighted happened because of a lack of knowledge,” he said.

Andrew Blois, chairman of the CLA’s Suffolk branch, said: “It has been obvious for many years that the system is not working properly. Many local authorities do not have the skilled conservation staff that the existing heritage system demands. The CLA’s recommendations are intended to increase, rather than reduce, heritage protection. ”

The CLA says the use of unqualified staff often leads to conflicting advice to property owners struggling to cope with building and conservation rules.