An apology and a response ...
Essex County Council
Chelmsford Essex CM1 1QH
Dear Mr Corder-Birch,
Re: Historic Environment Services
10th October 2016
Thank you for your correspondence of 4th August 2016 and I would firstly like to apologise for not getting a response back to you sooner. Before addressing your query I would first like to register my appreciation for the valuable work that The Essex Society for Archaeology and History continue to do in developing our understanding and raising awareness of our county's rich and diverse heritage.
I am proud of the reputation that Essex County Council (the Council) has built over a number of years in terms of Historic Environment services. The Council remain at the forefront of protecting and managing the county's historic environment, maintaining a team of specialists (www.placeservices.co.uk), and the Essex Historic Environment Record, to ensure that changes to the heritage of the county can be properly considered by local planning authorities in Essex. Place Services also advises other teams within the Council, such as Country Parks, which have a role in managing heritage sites that are within its ownership, and continues to work closely with external organisations, like Historic England and the National Trust, to influence the positive management of other local heritage sites in Essex.
The Council's specialist planning advice services were brought together in a single, multi-disciplinary team, Place Services, in 2012 to continue to deliver advice to local authorities in support of the planning process, and since 2014 have been successfully operating as a Traded Service, delivering a surplus that can be directed to support front line services. We continue to work with and on behalf of the District, Borough, City and Unitary authorities to provide a cost neutral service for the County Council that delivers economy of scale, and avoids the need for duplication of services in each local planning authority. Importantly, this approach has allowed a critical mass of staff to be maintained with a full range of professional expertise, helping to ensure that decisions affecting our heritage, are based on sound and well-informed information and advice, and that limited resources are targeted in the most effective way possible. Within Place Services, we have archaeologists and historic buildings specialists who are employed to provide specialist historic environment advice.
Although the changes we have introduced over the last few years have not been without their challenges, the Council remains committed to the sustainable management of the county's heritage. As you note in your correspondence Castle Point District Council have made the decision not to utilise the historic environment expertise within Place Services, although they have accessed the service on a couple of occasions to provide ad hoc advice as required. It is not clear what alternative arrangements they have in place to deal with planning applications affecting the historic environment of their local authority area; an issue which I note you are following up with them directly. However, the Place Services team is continuously looking for opportunities to grow our historic environment services, where these can be developed in a way that remains cost neutral to the Council, and the team has been successful in securing new Service Level Agreements for the provision of our specialist advice elsewhere in the county e.g. Thurrock, and beyond.
I hope the above provides a useful overview of how the Council is actively supporting a positive strategy for supporting conservation of the historic environment. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss further.
Cllr Simon Walsh Cabinet Member for Environment and Waste
cc. Cllr John Spence, Cabinet Member for Finance, Housing and Planning
Cllr David Finch, Leader, Essex County Council