History Scotland: Tories propose reforms to help re-open and protect Scotland’s historic sites

The party said ongoing closures had exposed flaws within Historic Environment Scotland

Reforms to Scotland’s heritage body would help re-open and protect historic sites and ensure mass closures do not happen again, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

The party said ongoing closures had exposed “many flaws within the running of Historic Environment Scotland (HES)”.

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Dozens of high-profile sites were shut in 2021 after inspectors identified a safety risk from unstable masonry. A number remain closed, such as Kelso Abbey and Edzell Castle.

Kelso Abbey. Picture: Stuart CobleyKelso Abbey. Picture: Stuart Cobley
Kelso Abbey. Picture: Stuart Cobley

The Tories want to see accelerated inspections, more regular safety checks, and better promotion of Scotland’s heritage sites. The party also called for a rethink of HES membership, with additional benefits introduced to increase membership numbers and funding.

Tory MSP Alexander Stewart said: “The ongoing closure of many historic sites across Scotland has had a huge impact on the sector, as well the tourism industry. It has exposed many flaws within the running of Historic Environment Scotland with seemingly no end in sight for the gates remaining shut at many of these attractions.

“The Scottish Conservatives have unveiled bold and ambitious plans to re-open Scotland’s heritage in line with health and safety. Our proposals would also mean that Scotland’s heritage is never allowed to go so under promoted ever again, while we would look at how members could benefit more from being a part of HES.

“SNP ministers have failed to act urgently enough following the post pandemic period to ensure Scots and tourists can enjoy so many iconic sites across Scotland. The time has come for them to support HES to re-open them and ensure they are being upfront with the public as to how much these lengthy closures have ultimately cost them.”

The Scottish Tory proposals come ahead of the party’s conference in Aberdeen, which kicks off on Friday.

HES previously said climate change was accelerating the deterioration of sites. It has reopened or increased access at 53 of the 70 closed priority sites.

It is understood the speed at which inspections are carried out is governed by a number of factors, including nesting birds, protected bats, adverse weather and site accessibility, as well as the availability of specialist staff and machinery. Repairs are also dependent on machinery, scaffolding and resources.

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A HES spokeswoman said the organisation was “happy to have a dialogue with the Scottish Conservatives about working to promote Scottish heritage and to outline the active measures and initiatives we already have in place to address their concerns”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “HES’s high level masonry inspection programme is essential to preserve sites for future generations and ensure they are safe for visitors and staff. The programme is progressing at pace and HES has fully opened or increased access at 53 of the 70 affected sites.

“In 2023/24, the Scottish Government is providing Historic Environment Scotland with £72.7 million in funding, which is 82.6 per cent higher than the £39.8m level of support before the impact of the pandemic in 2019/20.

“As HES’s commercial income continues to recover strongly from the impact of the pandemic, this will ensure it can continue to care for our heritage in communities across Scotland.”



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