Heritage Advisory Services: Towards best practice - Summary and recommendations of report

Elizabeth Vines and Katrina McDougall, Conservation and Heritage Consultants

Towards Best Practice

2. Summary and recommendations of report

Throughout Australia there has been unanimous support expressed, by State and local governments and the community at large, for Heritage Advisory Services. It is considered that these services have been the most cost-effective management tool for Australia’s heritage assets since their progressive introduction across the country, beginning in 1977 in Victoria.

Currently services operate in 110 local council areas, with approximately $1.36 million annual Government (Federal, State and local) funding. Since commencement of services, over $6.1 million has been allocated to the running of these services. Since their inception, the Commonwealth National Estate Grants Program has been used to establish Heritage Advisory Services and this funding is currently heavily relied upon by all programs apart from Victoria and New South Wales. Recent Federal Government funding cuts have removed this source of funding, threatening the programs in Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia and requiring these programs to find alternative funding sources or management structures to retain or introduce new services. This evaluation of this multi-million dollar 20 year program is timely in providing coordinated information to the Federal Government (via the Australian Heritage Commission) about the value of Heritage Advisory Services and recommended future management structures.

2.1 Benefits of Heritage Advisory Services

(Refer Section 3.1 and 3.10)

Heritage Advisory Services have provided a highly effective delivery mechanism for providing heritage advice and information on heritage issues directly to the community. Consultation undertaken in the preparation of this report confirms the ongoing necessity of these services in assisting with appropriate development and management of the nation’s heritage asset base. This document should form the basis of a national policy which recognises the benefits of these Heritage Advisory Services across the country and provides a model for their delivery.

2.2 Roles of various levels of Government

The Federal, State and local governments should work jointly and cooperatively to implement the recommendations of this report as follows:

2.2.1 Role of Federal Government

This report recommends that Heritage Advisory Services continue to be facilitated by the Federal Government as they are:

  • the most cost-effective way to conserve and manage heritage at the local community level
  • a community-based activity "increasing public awareness, concern and community education", identified by the Australian Heritage Commission as the preferred approach for heritage management.

This report recommends a continuing Federal Government role in Heritage Advisory Services by providing funding for a number of initiatives as follows:

  • provision of a national framework policy and guidelines for Heritage Advisory Services across Australia comprising the following:

– Heritage Advisers Handbook (Refer Section 4.1)

– training package for Heritage Advisers (and associated personnel) which has accreditation from the various professional organisations (Refer Section 6.2)

– national Heritage Advisers newsletter and computerised data base of Advisers (Refer Section 4.1)

– Annual or biennial heritage management meeting/conference for local government and State Government agencies, and Heritage Advisers (in rotating locations) (Refer Section 4.1)

  • the ongoing development of Heritage Advisory Services in States and Territories which have only recently commenced services – particularly in Tasmania which has received no previous funding and as yet has no State Government coordinated services (Refer Section 3.8.2)
  • continued support in the development of Heritage Advisory Services in States and Territories with a large heritage asset base but small population base to support it, or state where funding allocation by State Government is insufficient to maintain services. (Refer Section 3.2.3)

2.2.2 Role of State Government

This report finds that each State or Territory Government has a responsibility to assist with the provision of Heritage Advisory Services throughout the State/Territory by undertaking the following:

  • the provision of funding (shared by councils) for the day-to-day running of services. Cost-sharing arrangements will vary from council to council
  • coordination of Heritage Advisory Services that operate within their State or Territory
  • delivery and implementation of the national policy, Heritage Advisers Handbook, regular training programs and newsletters (incorporating a computerised data base of Advisers)
  • the organisation of annual meetings of Advisers to facilitate networking and information exchange between Advisers in their various council areas
  • the setting of reporting standards for Advisers (including preparation of an annual report).

2.2.3 Role of local government

This report finds that local government is best placed to deliver Heritage Advisory Services directly to the community. While different councils will have different policies and mechanisms in place to consider heritage advice, the report recommends that local government should assist the provision of services by undertaking the following:

  • the provision of funding (shared with State Government) for the running of services
  • the day-to-day management of Heritage Advisory Services
  • acting as the contracting agency for Heritage Advisers; however, State Government approval should be sought for appointment of Advisers
  • providing back-up facilities for the Adviser such as staffing assistance for diary appointments, a vehicle (where required in certain country locations), secretarial and filing assistance
  • establishing a local Heritage Committee and local Heritage Fund, where appropriate, as a support to the Adviser’s activities.

2.3 Economic evaluation

(Refer Section 5)

Heritage Advisory Services have played a pro-active role in stimulating local economic bases and have positively impacted on local economies, particularly in country towns with heritage character. Case studies in this report indicate that the provision of free heritage advice has facilitated revitalisation of once depressed towns with historic character, giving the area new focus and direction. Many locations within Australia have been assisted and the local economy boosted.

The use of Heritage Advisers to provide architectural advice for the conservation of heritage places has proven to be extremely cost effective, due to the efficiency of concentrating expert advice within the one area. The provision of associated financial incentives such as local Heritage Funds for conservation works has also benefited local communities and in some cases has been quantified as multiplying initial government allocation to these funds by between 11 to 15 times in money spent in the local community. The economic spin-off from this State and Federal Government financial investment has been attested to in many country towns.

2.4 Funding of Heritage Advisory Services

(Refer Sections 3.2.2 & 4.2)

The Federal Government has previously contributed to the funding of many Heritage Advisory Services through the State component of the National Estate Grants Program but this Federal Government funding ceased following the change in government in 1996. It is now necessary for each State to consider the funding sources for their own programs.

This report recommends the following funding arrangements:

  • State/local government cost sharing for the running of programs. The New South Wales model of fund distribution (where a proportion of funding is guaranteed for the first three years only for metropolitan councils, but is ongoing for more needy country councils) should be considered as a possible national model for funding.
  • The use of Federal funding (as outlined in Section 2.2 above) to establish a national framework for Advisers including a national policy, a Heritage Advisers Handbook, Adviser training package, an Adviser’s newsletter and biennial national meetings of Advisers.

In addition, Federal funding is required for establishment of Heritage Advisory Services in Tasmania and ongoing funding is also recommended for States with a large number of heritage assets but a small population base to support them.

Other recommended sources of funding for Heritage Advisory Services which will vary from State to State are:

  • proceeds from the sale of State Government owned heritage assets with the establishment of a sinking fund
  • sponsorship for Heritage Advisory Services
  • Department of Communications and the Arts (cultural development programs), Department of Tourism, and economic development agencies, which should all be investigated and approached given the economic and tourist spin offs which accrue from these services.

2.5 Delegation of authority to Advisers

(Refer Section 3.2.3 and Section 4)

Heritage Advisory Services greatly assist with expediting approvals required for heritage places, whether of State or local significance. The use of early, expert advice is cost and time effective and greatly reduces any subsequent and expensive litigation. It is recommended that, where possible, all States and Territories provide delegation to Advisers and/or local councils with heritage expertise as this makes the approvals process much more efficient. Currently only South Australia has ministerial delegation given to Heritage Advisers.

2.6 Training program and auditing of services

(Refer Section 6)

This report recommends that professional training of Advisers by way of formal training programs and informal networking with other Advisers is essential to maintain a high standard of advice and service. Refer Section 3.11 for details outlining the role of Federal Government in development training packages and programs.

This report recommends that the service provided as part of any Heritage Advisory Service be regularly audited and that advisers be required to report formally to State/Territory Governments at least annually. The report also finds that the competency of Advisers should be monitored. It recommends that accreditation of Advisers be explored as a national initiative and that ways of delivery, relevant training and accreditation programs be explored.

2.7 Promotion of effectiveness of services

(Refer Section 3.2.7)

The profile of local Heritage Advisory Services should be advocated at a national level and promoted to the following forums:

  • Planning and Local Government Ministers’ meetings
  • Council of Lord Mayors
  • Heritage Ministers’ meetings
  • State and Federal Ministers’ meetings
  • National meetings of Heritage Chairs
  • National meetings of Heritage Officials
  • Australia ICOMOS.

2.8 Recommendations for individual States

Section 3 of this report provides information on consultations with each of the States which can be summarised in the following recommendations:

  • continue to expand existing services in all States
  • introduce services in Tasmania (supported by State-coordinated Federal Government funding)
  • commence training programs for advisers (similar to those developed by the New South Wales Heritage Office)
  • utilise proposed Heritage Advisers Handbook, national networks, newsletters and annual/biennial meetings to consolidate and improve standards of Heritage Advisory Services in all States.

Detailed recommendations for each State can be found in Section 3.