BY ALEXANDRA FREAN
THE private owners of England's crumbling stately homes and castles should be allowed to apply for lottery funds to prevent their historic buildings and collections falling into dereliction and being broken up, MPs were told yesterday.
Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, told the Heritage Committee inquiry into the National Lottery that it was preposterous and horrifying that two thirds of all listed buildings in England were prevented by law from applying for lottery grants because they were privately owned. "The notion that private owners are rich men living in their castles is bunkum. Whilst owners of our stately homes of course make an important contribution to tourism and the economy, the overwhelming number of private owners live in modest buildings which have been described by the Prime Minister as 'Everyman's heritage', " he said.
In evidence to MPs, Sir Jocelyn said that the continued occupation of stately homes over generations had contributed to one of England's most important cultural and tourist assets. Yet those properties were very expensive to maintain and repair. The current inherited back log of repairs was unlikely to be eliminated by 2000.
Although the public benefit of preserving private buildings has been recognised by successive governments in the form of repair grants and tax relief, buildings in private or commercial ownership are prevented by the 1980 Heritage Act from receiving money from the Heritage Memorial Fund. it is the fund's job to distribute lottery money to historic and listed buildings, so those properties are therefore excluded from lottery money.
"The Heritage lottery fund should present a perfect opportunity to solve at least some of our problems ... You could not but be appalled and shocked by the dereliction which pervades so much of our heritage," he said.
English Heritage spent about half its £103 million grant in aid on preserving private listed buildings, but that grant had now been cut in real terms by £44.7 million in four years. As a result, a funding gap was opening up between the projects English Heritage could no longer afford to pay for and those which the heritage fund was allowed to award lottery money to.
Sir Jocelyn also told the committee that the cut in English Heritage's budget put great pressures upon it. The full budget for the coming year would be allocated by the first day of the financial year.
He told the MPs that the requirement for lottery grants to be accompanied by matching or partnership funding from local authorities, local communities or business sponsors was totally unrealistic.
Lord Rothschild, chairman of the Heritage Memorial Fund, told the committee he agreed that private property owners should be able to apply for lottery money to preserve historic buildings, provided the grant could be proved to be in the public interest.
Joe Ashton, a Labour member for the committee, asked Lord Rothschild why he had felt it necessary to rush into awarding a grant to buy the Churchill family papers last year for £13.5 million.
Lord Rothschild said he had not rushed into the decision. He had been speaking to the Churchill family about the matter for three years prior to awarding the grant.
* Applicants for lottery grants of less than £100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund will in future have to provide only 10 per cent of their own funding, rather than 25 per cent, from partership deals with private sponsors or local authorities, it was announced yesterday.
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