In my role as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee I recently chaired a hearing into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s campaign aimed at Promoting Participation with the Historic Environment.
One of the hearings witnesses was the Chief Executive of English Heritage Dr Simon Thurley. With my final question I took the opportunity to enquire about his organisation’s decision to cut funding for our historic cathedrals. Aside from the potential damage caused by a lack of funding this has caused our cathedrals to charge more for entrance and therefore potentially cause a reduction in participation.
Dr Thurley replied that English heritage was in the process of conducting a survey entitled The English Heritage Cathedrals Fabric Condition Survey 2009 which had the remit of deciding which cathedrals had significant problems and therefore needed help. The results of this survey were to be published on December 1st and he suggested, as I am a member of the Lincoln Cathedral Council, that I would not be disappointed.
Yesterday the results of the survey were announced. It concluded that despite our cathedrals having spent over £250m on repairs since 1991, it was still necessary to spend another £100m over the next ten years. Significantly Lincoln Cathedral was granted £250,000 for urgent work, and according to Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Philip Buckler, this money means “that the current works program can continue”.
I have spoken to the Dean and he has provided me with a breakdown of what the investment will be used for once it commences in the new fiscal year. It will be primarily used for work on the south side of the cathedral between the two transepts. Here the team of in-house craft and tradesmen will work on stone repair, refurbishment of the stained glass windows and roof and lead repair. They will also repair the damaged wood.
The announcement of the grant is encouraging and greatly welcomed. It is tangible recognition of the work which still needs to be done in order to maintain not only Lincoln, but the other sixty cathedrals in England for ourselves, and for future generations. After all, our cathedrals are our greatest architectural heritage. But they are still pathetically under-funded in comparison to some of our continental neighbours. For instance the French Government has just announced it is putting 100m Euros into its own Cathedrals. That said, English Heritage’s announcement is at least a step in the right direction.