The first comprehensive survey on the effect of crime on England’s historic buildings and sites, commissioned by English Heritage, was released last month. The survey shows a worrying rate of damage and estimates that:
- Some 70,000 listed buildings – 18.7% of the entire stock of listed buildings in England – were last year physically harmed by crime. For some 30,000 listed buildings – or 8% of the entire stock – the damage was substantial.
- Our most precious buildings are the worst affected. 22.7% of grade I or II buildings were subject to heritage crime last year, compared with 18.3% of grade II buildings. 15.3% of scheduled monuments were affected.
- Churches and other religious buildings face the greatest threat with 37.5% (three in eight) damaged by crime last year.
- Metal theft is the biggest single threat. Around 5.3% of listed buildings were affected by it, but this nearly trebles for churches, with 14.3% affected last year.
- Anti-social behaviour around heritage assets are commonplace with 12.3% of heritage assets affected last year. Anti-social behaviour is the single most common heritage crime facing scheduled monuments.
Heritage Minister John Penrose said, “This survey makes for depressing reading. When historic buildings and sites fall victim to vandalism, damage and theft, it’s not just the owner who suffers. Very often the thing that’s been stolen or damaged is literally irreplaceable, and the whole community is the loser.
“So I pay tribute to English Heritage for drawing everyone’s attention to this problem, and for the work they – along with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service – are doing to help combat it.”
Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, added, “The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches. Whilst heritage assets are not necessarily being targeted over other places, save perhaps for their valuable materials and artefacts, they are suffering a substantial rate of attrition from crime nonetheless.
“Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right and centuries of history will be lost forever. These places have an obviously high value to society. Their particular vulnerability warrants every effort to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy just as much as we enjoy them now.”
English Heritage has been running a heritage crime programme for two years with the aim of reducing the amount of damage done by crime to the nation’s heritage assets. Representatives from more than 100 organisations are now members of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), a voluntary national network that is being used to take forward the initiatives and galvanise local action. A memorandum of understanding to delineate responsibilities between the three strategic partners – English Heritage, the police and CPS – was signed last year and a growing number of local authorities have made their own commitment to the programme. In the last two years English Heritage has assisted in over 150 cases and also introduced heritage impact statements to help judges and juries understand the true impact of heritage crime. English Heritage is producing a suite of guidance documents which will shortly include a guide to preventative measures.
Local history societies, amenity groups, neighbourhood watch and residents’ association are all being encouraged to be more vigilant of criminal damage to historic sites and buildings in their area and report any suspicious activities to the police. Cheshire West and Chester Council is among the first authorities to respond and integrate heritage crime reduction activities through the existing framework of its Community Safety Partnership and wider community work. Cllr Hilarie McNae, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Heritage Champion, said: “Heritage crime is seriously affecting the conservation of our ancient buildings and monuments, and as the caretakers of thousands of years of history we have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop it. By working with our partners including the Police, we are delivering a co-ordinated approach to ensure our heritage assets are cherished, valued and protected for future generations.”
Mark Harrison, National Policing Advisor at English Heritage, said, “Many communities realise that heritage crimes do not only damage buildings but also the quality of life in their area. We hope that more community networks will be established with the skills, understanding and information to make a real difference.”
The full research contains much more data and is available on the English Heritage website: www.english-heritage.org.uk/heritagecrime.