Craig Weatherhill: Arrogant Qangos Must Go!

A Penzance archaeologist and historian has joined with Cornish MP George Eustice in calling for ‘English’ Heritage to be replaced, in Cornwall, with a locally based body.

Craig Weatherhill, author of several books, papers and articles, is exasperated by what he terms: “This arrogant quango’s disgraceful neglect of, and contempt for, Cornwall’s valuable heritage”.

A quango is often considered a ‘quasi-autonomous national government organisation’ or, officially in the UK, a non-departmental public body. They are funded by a mix of government funds and revenue raising.

Here is what Craig has to say about the situation in Cornwall:


THE latest in a series of incidents stems from a site meeting on August 6th this year, called for by groups concerned with serial damage to the Tregeseal stone circle, St Just, and associated ancient monuments, allegedly by activities imposed upon the moorland by sister quango Natural ‘England’.

Initially, ‘English’ Heritage did not want to know, until the Celtic League, an organisation  recognised by the United Nations, became involved.

The Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments, who attended, promised to produce his recommendations within a fortnight. He failed to do so. Frequent enquiries since then have merely produced adjusted promises, the last being for 19 October.

That has come and gone, and still there is nothing. It is nowhere near good enough!

‘English’ Heritage (or more properly titled The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) has a long record of turning blind eyes to the damage and destruction of ancient sites in Cornwall.

From the Cadbury’s Creme Egg Hunt in 1984, to the utter destruction of numerous sites they are appointed to protect.

They ruined the fogous at Carn Euny and Chysauster, and publicly insulted those who spoke out.

According to their then Chairman, the latter ‘wasn’t exactly Stonehenge’, which pretty well sums up their whole attitude to Cornwall and its heritage.

[The badly damaged and neglected Fogou at Chysauster, mismanaged by English Heritage]

Unless it is a site from which they can turn a profit, they simply do not want to know. In fact, they’ve hived off all the guardianship sites they were appointed to manage to people like the National Trust and the Cornwall Heritage Trust – except for those which generate revenue.”

They endanger the original bid that secured UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Cornish mining, and the actions  of ‘English’ Heritage to delist and support the demolition of a Grade II star engine house near St Austell are a case in point.

English Heritage’s case was that the engine house was worthless as it did not contain an engine. This was astonishingly ignorant, and not only effectively placed all but two Cornish engine houses at serious risk, but almost jeopardised the entire World Heritage Site bid. Of course, it need hardly be said that the development applicant was a major corporation.

At Tintagel in 1998 news of the discovery of a piece of slate incised with names of 6th century men, including one called Artognou, was suppressed by English Heritage until the start of the peak holiday season.

Then they arranged headlines in every major newspaper, claiming proof of King Arthur. Of course, this claim was total bilge, but they was far more interested in the gate money than they were  giving historical facts. Our heritage deserves much, much better than this.

In 1988, the then Penwith District Council wrote to English Heritage, concerned that significant monuments in the area had no legal protection. English Heritage assured them that a radical new Scheduling list was in progress, to be complete within 5 years.

It never appeared, not to this very day, but they kept on giving the Council that assurance. Then, just last year, I came across a document written by Cornwall’s Historic Environment Service in 2008, clearly stating that all Scheduling in West Penwith had been halted in 1987, with English Heritage deciding that the new Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme for Penwith would be adequate protection.

Of course, it was no such thing. The ESA had no statutory teeth, and with only a voluntary take-up.  If that wasn’t bad enough, English Heritage had deliberately lied, several times, to the local authority! I know this to be fact, because I was the officer at the Council who wrote the letters.

English Heritage’s latest piece of blinding arrogance is that we see a play about World War II at Pendennis Castle cancelled because of the quango’s crazy insistence that all reference to Nazis and Jews be written out of the script. It’s unbelievable!

I could cite many more cases of ‘English’ Heritage’s neglect and misrepresentation, least of all that which marketed Cornish Celtic heritage as that of a totally unconnected people. There is a frankly sinister political aspect to English Heritage’s policies.

I call for the disbanding of ‘English’ Heritage and Natural ‘England’ is also economically sensible. If the government is serious about curtailing expenditure, then what is the sense in maintaining two tiers of administration in both fields?

Get rid of the national bodies, and devolve their powers and the funds to local level and local knowledge.
We still await signs of Mr Cameron’s much-vaunted ‘localism’, especially on this side of the Amazon*, so here’s a perfect way to kickstart it.

Most Cornish people I have spoken to would be greatly relieved to see the backs of both quangos.

Craig Weatherhill 30 October, 2011

[*This refers to David Cameron’s on-air blunder regarding protests over his proposed transgression of Cornwall’s historic River Tamar border with the statement: “It’s hardly the Amazon, is it?”]
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