That vision has shaped the first Wales-only legislation for the care and protection of our distinct historic environment, which will be introduced into the National Assembly today.
Our historic environment, which includes ancient monuments and historic buildings as well as the landscapes that surround them, shapes our national identity and brings significant economic benefits, accounting for one-fifth of the tourism expenditure in Wales.
This unique and valuable legacy, however, can easily be threatened. Some of our nationally important listed buildings are suffering from neglect and decay. Monuments in Wales have also suffered from more deliberate damage, including the bulldozing of parts of 1,200-year-old Offa’s Dyke and damage to hill forts that have been in existence for over 2,000 years.
There were 119 cases of damage to scheduled monuments recorded between 2006 and 2012, with only one successful prosecution.
One of the aims of the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill is to make it more difficult for individuals to escape prosecution for such criminal damage by claiming ignorance of a monument’s status or location.
It will also give Welsh Ministers powers to take immediate and effective action if a scheduled monument is threatened and oblige owners who have damaged monuments to undertake repairs.
The Bill will help to stop some of our greatest historic buildings falling into disrepair by allowing local authorities to take action to halt decay and providing them with new ways of recovering the costs of any urgent works.
The Bill will also:
- Create an independent panel to provide the Welsh Ministers with expert advice on policy and strategy affecting the Welsh historic environment;
- Require local authorities to create and maintain Historic Environment Records that will help inform planning or re-development decisions in their areas — a measure that will be unique to Wales;
- Establish a comprehensive register of nationally important historic parks and gardens in Wales on a statutory basis; and
- Make it easier for owners to manage their listed buildings and scheduled monuments by introducing Heritage Partnership Agreements. These long-term management plans will eliminate the need for repeated consent applications for similar works.
Explaining the significance of the Bill, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates, said:
The Bill will be complemented by new policy, advice and guidance that has been developed to support the legislation.
The Bill is a Programme for Government commitment and has been prepared following wide engagement with heritage professionals, the third sector and the public. It complements goals set out in the Planning Bill and the Well-being of Future Generations Act.