Will Croydon Council sell off more of its historic assets?

By - Monday 8th August, 2016

Sean Creighton surveys a national picture of heritage that isn’t pretty. He hopes that Croydon bucks the trend

Porcelain from the Riesco Collection, sold in 2014.
Photos public domain.

The pre-May 2014 Croydon administration sold part of the Riesco collection. The current administration has not adopted a policy that there will be no further sale of items while it is in office, nor has it set up an investigation to review the idea from several years ago to invest the collection in a trust. It is planning to demolish the Croydon College buildings.

Historic England (HE) is pointing out that “As part of the 2015 Spending Review, the chancellor announced that, ‘we’re going to let councils spend 100 per cent of the receipts from the assets they sell to improve their local services’. Given the pressure on local authorities to maximise the return they get from their property portfolios, both through sale and through more effective usage, there is a clear need for them to have a clear understanding of the type and condition of the heritage assets they own”.

HE has therefore been looking at local authority asset management plans and historic buildings and landscapes in local authority possession, and poses the question of whether they actually know what they own.

English Heritage commissioned a report on how the heritage sector could support local authorities

In 2012 HE, then known as English Heritage, commissioned a report on how the heritage sector could support local authorities as they sought to manage those heritage assets in their ownership. That report concluded that “very few [local authority] asset managers had any form of data base that identified listed buildings or scheduled monuments, let alone other forms of heritage assets. A large number of asset managers contacted appeared to have a very limited grasp of the numbers of heritage assets owned by their authority”.

Then, in 2013, EH commissioned an investigation of how the heritage element of local authority property portfolios was reflected in their asset management plans (AMPs). These plans (or strategies) are not mandatory. They are best practice, but “fewer and fewer authorities have up-to-date examples”.

The research found that “heritage was rarely mentioned in AMPs, and that the heritage assets in a local authorities’ ownership were not properly understood”.

There is a need for an early warning system for conservation staff

Areas for improvement included better training for staff; improved linkages between property and heritage data systems; the need for an early warning system to alert conservation staff of intended action relating to a heritage asset in local authority ownership; and the need for the development of a heritage asset strategy”.

The consultants have worked closely with two local authorities on the AMPs. Building on this work, HE is preparing up to-date guidance ‘Managing Local Authority Heritage Assets’ to be published in early 2017.

Croydon Council does not have to wait for the publication of this before starting to examine closely which of its assets would be regarded as ‘heritage’.

Further details can be read in Historic England Research. No 3. Summer 2016 on its website.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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