The Government would do more to look after Hadrian’s Wall if the Romans had built it in the South, an MP has claimed.
Plans to offload vasts amounts of the UK’s heritage collection to a stand alone charity have been criticised by MPs, who say the move puts hundreds of sites at risk.
And as English Heritage moves ahead with separate plans to cut the cash behind the Hadrian’s Wall Trust - leading to its closure - Labour’s shadow culture minister has said it is a disgrace that the Government is picking and choosing which assets to fund.
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman told MPs said that English Heritage was reducing funding for the Wall and that the Government’s management of the World Heritage site was “shameful”.
She said: “People in the North East cannot believe that the Government can rightly find a lot of money to invest in Stonehenge but cannot get their act together adequately to look after Hadrian’s Wall.
“People will not believe this would have happened if the wall was in the South.
“It’s shameful that the northern extent of the Roman Empire, built 2,000 years ago, under this Tory-led Government is in doubt.
“And it’s amazing whereas the Romans could manage to build a wall 1,500 miles from their capital, the minister cannot even manage to look after one 300 miles from his.”
The Government said it had not helped pay to build the tourist centre at Stonehenge, but English Heritage has said it will be the only major site it continues to pay for.
Wider changes to English Heritage will see management of more than 400 historical sites handed to an independent charitable trust expected to eventually cover its own costs, working under the English Heritage name.
Concerns have been voiced that the charity will put its resources into more attractive sites, or even have to introduce charges at some locations.
Meanwhile, Historic England will be set up as a new quango to provide national expertise and support on the ground for the rest of the less glamorous heritage assets, but with little cash to go round.
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said in the Parliamentary debate that more than 1,300 sites across the North East will be left in the hands of a “rump body” with few resources and little sway.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the changes would not see any sites neglected. I am very confident, having engaged closely with Northumberland County Council, that the arrangements for Hadrian’s Wall, the majority of which is ably managed by English Heritage, will continue after the demise of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. In fact, it will ensure that we can spend money more effectively to support Hadrian’s Wall,” Mr Vaizey told MPs.
He added: “It is mildly galling, with £80m having been found to launch the new charity and to clear the huge backlog of repairs, that people are now muttering about resources.”
The minister said the changes will allow essential conservation work to be carried out, adding that “it will allow investment in new projects to build on commercial success and enhance the visitor experience.”