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We’re not old but this is Holborn (Roll up, Roll up!)
HER Forum Summer Meeting 2016, The City Temple, Holborn Viaduct, London

(Post presentation questions and comments – in italicised type following each abstract – are based on notes taken at the meeting).

View from the Chair – Chris Webster (South West Heritage Trust)

Following the demise of the last London venue, HER Forum met at the City Temple Conference centre for its summer meeting. The morning began with a panel discussion on the Environmental Information Regulations and how a recent court judgement might affect charging for HER information.  There followed two talks covering Research Frameworks, firstly examining the work of local community groups and where the information generated went , and secondly the plans for future development of the frameworks.

In the afternoon, we heard about the project to identify sites of significance to the LGBTQ community and the implications of the Welsh Historic Environment Act 2016 which will give Welsh HERs a statutory footing when implemented next year. Finally there was an update on the project to investigate the practicalities of transferring the National Record of the Historic Environment‘s data to HERs.

Environmental Information Regulations and their Impact on HER Charging - Panel Discussion: Quinton Carroll (ALGAO England) & Ben Wallace (Warwickshire County Council) – Chaired by Chris Webster

Are HERs covered by the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)?
There is some ambiguity in the wording of the regulations in that the suggestion is made that cultural sites can themselves be affected by the environment. Thus, it is reasoned, cultural sites (and in consequence HERs) would stand separate from these environmental processes. However, other considerations indicate that, on balance, cultural sites are covered by the measures since:

• The fact that cultural sites can affect and be affected by environmental processes can also support the interpretation that they must be covered by them.   
• Cultural sites can evidently be construed as landscape elements, which do fall within the regulations.

Since the EIR have their origins in the European Union do they apply now that Britain is leaving?
At present, on the basis that European law has been implemented in this country through British law, the requirement still stands. Additionally, it is unlikely that the regulations will be rescinded in the foreseeable future as they are generally in keeping with the ‘spirit’ of current legislative thinking.  

Has legal advice been taken on the matter and, if so, what was concluded?
As a result of a case mounted against East Sussex County Council, the Local Government Association (LGA) engaged a barrister to provide council’s opinion (which had specific bearing on the work HERs). It was concluded that, whilst HERs in general terms, fall outside the regulations, HER data might be used in such a way as to bring them within their requirements. In short, the data itself is not covered by EIR but what it is being used for is. 
So what, if anything, are HERs allowed to charge for?   
It seems evident that, according to the EIR, charges can be made for putting data into a useable format but not for maintaining the database generally. Also charges can be implemented for enhancing the value of data, although (barrister’s opinion suggests) making data available via a GIS would not constitute ‘enhancement’ in this respect. Furthermore, the Information Commissioner’s guidance (section 15) indicates that ‘market based’ charges are legitimate, which could open up the wider possibility of making a charge to commercial users.

However, whilst the Commissioner’s implication is clear, the legal view obtained by the LGA states that this would only apply if the local authority is not required to collect and supply the information, which seems contrary to the position being taken regarding HERs and their status. Also, any charges need to be clearly defined to say what is covered by them and what enhancements are being supplied.

Widening the context to encompass another (widely discussed) comparison currently being made between the EIR and the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations (2015): This seems to indicate that (to an extent at least) the latter contradicts the former by suggesting that charges can be levied that extend beyond simple data provision. According to the RPSI the potential exists for a public sector body to “cover a substantial part of its costs relating to the performance of its public task” and that these can include overheads and the costs of maintaining the database.

What should HERs do to secure their position in respect of EIR?
If the HER provides information without charge the regulations will not apply as the material will be deemed ‘freely available’.
If charges are made, however, it will be essential that the HER has a formal charging policy which clearly lays out the specifics of what is being charged for and how the resulting funds are employed. Moreover, it should make it transparent that (based on advice received) the charging structures do comply with EIR.  

The regulations seem to permit charges levied at a reasonable level. The issue here appears to be defining what ‘reasonable’ means within the context of each individual local planning authority. In Warwickshire County Council, for example, a review of charges made by other services has shown that the HER is charging less than most and this sort of comparison can serve as a useful guide. If, however, cumulative costs extend into hundreds of pounds or if charges are levied on the general public (as opposed to commercial operators) difficulties may be encountered.

The above, however, is not to be interpreted as ALGAO’s definitive advice to HERs on EIR. Questions are still being compiled which are to be sent to the Local Government Association in an effort to further clarify the situation. Some type of guidance from Historic England would also be helpful. At this stage ALGAO’s advice would be get legal advice from your host authority.   
Comment (Senior Archaeologist) – Our HER is based on a charging policy agreed with 5 constituent districts. Were this to be challenged the continued existence of the service would be threatened.  

Question (HER Officer 1) – We charge an hourly rate of £25. Would this be considered ‘reasonable’?

Answer (BW) - The Information Commissioners’ Office does not specify to this degree of detail. It will be down to individual authorities to determine the levels to which charges are levied. This figure has to be based on the actual costs of doing the necessary work (this being work on which a productive person has actually had to be engaged – A Historic England formula exists to calculate this (Historic England, 2015, Historic England Guidance for Grants Projects 2.4, p5)). It can include staff overheads but not a fee for managing the database. These details need to be clearly set down in the HER’s charging policy.  

Question (HER Officer 2) – Does the Welsh Heritage Bill take into account of, or make reference to, the EIR?

Answer (Chris Martin, Regional Archaeologist, Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust) – EIR’s status in relation to the Bill has yet to be determined. However, since responsibility for HERs within the Bill lies with Welsh Assembly ministers via Cadw, it may well be that they will lie within the regulations.  
Comment (Chris Webster) – Since the South West Heritage Trust is a charity we are working on the basis that the Somerset HER will be exempt from EIR.

Reply (BW) – Quite probably. Though the question of public functions residing with charitable bodies or organisations beyond the public sector is an interesting one and needs further scoping.

Comment (Chris Webster) – It seems apparent that little, if any, thought was given to HERs and similar databases when the regulations were being drafted. However, on a superficial level, it seems possible to conjecture that, if you can give a reason for charging, then your charges will, by extension, be seen as ‘reasonable’.

Reply (QC) – Additional clarification is required both from the LGA and Historic England as to where the role of HERs fits within the regulations. Otherwise it will be difficult (to say the least) to ensure that compliance has been achieved within every local authority.

Question (addressed by BW to the floor) – Do you think HERs lie within the EIR?

Answer (Senior Archaeologist) – When a planning issue is involved, yes.

Question (HER Officer 3) – Could a definition of an HER be produced to underpin this process?

Answer (BW) – This is currently being worked on. A definition is being created based on the guidance document for the Welsh Heritage Bill (which, in turn, has been developed from the DCMS 2008 Draft Guidance to Local Authorities on HERs). A small working group has begun this process and is presently revising a first draft.

Question (Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments, HE) – Has anyone ever had their charges challenged?

Answer (BW) – Only one possible instance springs to mind which came to light through the HER Forum (see HER Forum e-mail list, 09-10-14). This was a case where the HER had charges set for them by their authority.
Question (HER Officer 4) – Can any comparisons be drawn with Biological Record Centres?

Answer (BW) – Yes, these were used as a case study in the same process.  

Comment (BW) – I will be happy to continue to scope things relating to EIR through my own authority.

Comment (HER Officer 4) – I will also be doing this through my authority (Durham County Council) and will feed back to ALGAO. We have been told that we are covered by the EIR and our charges have been revised accordingly.

Comment (QC) – Were Historic England able to provide a view on the issue it would furnish HERs with the possibility of taking this to their host authorities as a ‘default position’, thus potentially simplifying the process.

Reply (Nick Davis & Jane Golding, Historic England) – This suggestion can be taken to Mike Harlow (Corporate Secretary HE) for his opinion.   
Comment (Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments, HE) – There is a copyright issue in the current phase of HIAS that may relate to this topic.

Comment (BW) – Looking at the broader context, other resources - for example the National HLC - are being structured within the terms of the Open Government License. This specific project may perhaps provide some illumination on the applications of the EIR, although, in some respects it is to be seen as exceeding EIR in its provisions for making data freely available.   

Community Generated Historic Environment Research – Aisling Nash and Rob Hedge
(Worcestershire County Council)

This project has been undertaken to assess the value of community generated research and to evaluate the potential of this research to HERs and Research Frameworks. It should be emphasised that, the project aimed to look at potential value rather than make a judgement on the quality of the research.

The basis of the initiative was a national survey within England of the activities of societies and individual researchers within the voluntary sector. This survey went out through HERs and the CBA regional groups, amongst other avenues, and was conducted in partnership with the British Association of Local History Societies. 619 usable responses were received covering the period 2010 to 2015. This indicated that a total of around 1600 groups were active during that period undertaking around 12,000 projects. Many of these were concerned with local history but there were, nonetheless, large areas of overlap with archaeology.

Significant issues were revealed, however, regarding people’s lack of understanding of HERs. Only 40% of respondents sent data to HERs and, breaking down this figure, it became apparent that a mere 23% of local history groups disseminated information in this way. Furthermore, only 12% of respondents were uploading data onto OASIS.

There is an evident need to increase these numbers and also to impress upon researchers the role that HERs and research frameworks serve. Misunderstanding here was, in one case at least, so fundamental that it was possible for a researcher to reply that they did not provide material to the local HER, yet their principle aim was to ensure that ‘archaeology and heritage remained integral to the planning process’. In another instance a researcher continued to send data to the NMR rather than the HER. The study also demonstrated a need to publicise Research Frameworks more widely. Here it was evident that the wider public associated ‘research’ with academic publications rather than other forms of dissemination.  

Turning to funding and its implications for the direction of research and the destination of resulting data, 43% of respondents had received funding from external bodies, in the main from HLF but also from EU sources and various local authority ‘pots’. However, 75% of projects involved self-funded elements which, it can be inferred, are likely to have shaped both the demographic of those doing the research and the subject areas on which it was targeted. Professional support seems to be key to dissemination to HERs. It was evident that reduced reference to professional advice led to the proportion submitting information to an HER dipping to 37%.

The general picture revealed was one of a lack of trust in local authorities and, by association, HERs. If this ‘lost ground’ is to be made up HERs will need to become involved with projects at an earlier stage and, whilst the HLF is certainly the biggest ‘player’ the message needs to go out beyond this to cover other areas of professional support. Currently this interface is hampered by an ignorance of HERs and local authority expertise.

The project to assess value also involved 3 case study areas in Worcestershire, Norfolk and West Yorkshire. Here analytical methodologies included an assessment against Historic England’s Conservation Principles and detailing whether original sources and HER numbers were quoted and regional research frameworks referenced. The case studies indicated that most of the projects studied had at least a reasonable evidence-base and that, in both the local and national context,this research had huge potential value to HERs.    
In conclusion the study arrived at 5 key points:

• The information being generated by local research projects is of high value to HERs.
• Research Frameworks are poorly understood.
• Research Frameworks are seen as being ‘imposed’ by Historic England and the need exists to instil a sense of ownership with groups.
• Dissemination from local research projects is haphazard.
• Groups and individuals are unfamiliar with the roles, structures and responsibilities of HERs, local authorities and national bodies.

The following steps are being put in place to try to carry forward the study’s findings:

• A session at the CIfA conference involving community group representatives.
• A meeting and workshop involving Historic England, the CBA and other organizations.
• Guidance is to be produced for the HLF.
• The findings are to be used to shape the development of HIAS and the Heritage Gateway.
• HERALD and OASIS are to be more widely promoted and given a more ‘user-friendly’ aspect.

Question (HER Officer 4) – Why don’t people send information to HERs?

Answer (AN) - There seem to be a number of reasons: lack of knowledge about HERs; a distrust of the local council; people send material to the ‘council’ which never finds its way to the HER. The majority of researchers have an interest in the planning process but only a small proportion of these are aware of the HER’s function within this framework. Because of this discontinuity they feel they are not being listened to which, in turn, leads to a sense of resentment.  

Question (Digital Archivist & HERALD Project Manager, ADS) – What problems have been experienced with OASIS?

Answer (RH) – There seems to be a lack of awareness of OASIS and those that are aware of it don’t always understand its relevance. (There are, however, high hopes for HERALD).

(AN) – No-one specifically mentioned OASIS as being difficult to use. One issue seems to be that see their work as being of limited general interest. Another point highlighted by the study which may be of relevance here is a possible lack of digital skills.

(RH) – One third of the projects are producing some form of digital archive and web-presence has doubled since 2010 (now standing at 66%). However, digital obsolescence now has the potential of becoming a massive problem.

Question (Digital Archivist & HERALD Project Manager, ADS) – How can OASIS be opened up to these groups? Is their work resulting in reports and could these be made more available?

Answer (RH) – Material is being produced in a huge range of formats.

(AN) – In the case of one group in West Yorkshire there was an archive spanning 40-50 years. However, there is no indication of how this archive can be accessed without becoming a member.  
The general issue of community generated research isn’t confined to the sphere of HERs and is something that requires a sector-wide response.    

Developing Research Frameworks – Dan Miles (Historic England)

Historic England has just funded the updating of three Regional Research Frameworks – the North East, North West and the East of England. This presentation will set these frameworks into context with other historic environment evidence bases and research resources, and highlight their role in providing a research focus for development-led research as well as coordinating historic environment research across the different parts of the sector.

Informing the Future of the Past Update - Ben Wallace (Warwickshire County Council)

Most people will be aware that Informing the Future of the Past (IFP) has now moved to a wiki format to facilitate continued updating and enhancement. All HERs, including those in Scotland and Wales can access this system and its entire content is open to amendment. Oversight of the updating process is in the hands of the ALGAO HER Committee.

IFP can accommodate case studies, for example a study of the Birmingham City Historic Landscape Characterisation project has recently been included by Graham Tait (Coventry HER). Other work currently in progress includes the review and enhancement of glossary terms. Should anyone notice anything requiring amendment which they don’t have time to deal with, please forward the details to the ALGAO HER Committee.    
Comment (Jane Golding, Heritage Information Partnerships Manager, Historic England) – The current initiative to update and revise the HER audit process will certainly identify areas which will require IFP updates.

Pride of Place: The Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans-sexual and Queer Heritage Project - Bronwen Edwards and Alison Oram, (Leeds Beckett University)

Lesbian, gay and trans-gender heritage has tended to be hidden in the interpretation and presentation of historic sites. Pride of Place is a Historic England funded project (ending in September 2016) which aims to go some way towards redressing the balance in this area. It should be explained at the outset that ‘Queer’ has been employed as a ‘catchall’ term within the study, useful in that it has the flexibility to accommodate changing terminologies. It should, though, be acknowledged that it can be a difficult term for some older gay men who might have earlier experience of the word in a pejorative context.    
The project is rooted in a series of reforms in equalities legislation during the decade 2000-2010. These measures towards greater social inclusivity developed through legislation such as the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 and were brought together in the Equalities Act of 2010. (The latter placing a duty on public bodies to take the issue of equality forward strategically). In the broader context, a wider geographical impetus was given to inclusivity awareness by commemorations associated with the bi-centenary of the abolition of slavery in 2007.  
The initiative has developed a number of tangible products: an interactive, crowd-sourced map; an online exhibition; online teaching material; an online guide on building research and how to get local authority recognition for community and local groups and a similar guide for professional users covering the legislation of heritage asset protection, development plans, strategies and conservation areas,   

The crowd-source map was launched at the end of June 2016. Using this, sites can be ‘pinned’ on maps by anyone interested. These can include clubs and pubs, buildings connected with prominent queers, sites associated with legal persecution and churches in which same-sex couples have been memorialized or buried.

In planning the development of the map a number of potentially suitable computer platforms were reviewed but it became apparent that nothing that was available ‘off the shelf’ would satisfy all of the project’s requirements. Consequently a bespoke system was decided upon ( which contained customizable elements that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

Having reached this choice a number of factors had to be taken into account when further developing the site. Beyond the usual considerations of accessibility and usability of data there were public knowledge issues more in keeping with sites like ‘Trip Advisor’. How representative is the data that’s being posted? Does this matter? In addition, there was the question of partnerships. From the start these were viewed as highly important. What implications, though, might be drawn from Historic England hosting the site? Would this deter some potential users by giving the process a veneer of authority?

These were issues that did cause some division. Some were keen on ‘traditional’ structures with an emphasis on reliability. Others saw its primary potential as being a more populist, democratic tool. Questions were also asked about the use of a ‘wiki’ format and the possibilities of a self-regulating system. It was though, concluded that, even if consensus on some issues could not be achieved, then at least a layered view would be presented. The hope is that, in going beyond simple data collection, the system will go some way to change the customary heritage processes. 
Reviewing the picture so far revealed in terms of developing the protection of sites through designation, whilst a range of assets have been highlighted, particularly pubs and clubs, crowd sources have actually revealed very few examples of listable quality. There was also little apparent overlap between architectural and LGBT knowledge and thus nothing of significance emerged in respect of (for example) specific gay or lesbian architects. The history revealed tended to be rather ephemeral and therefore intangible.

Bearing this in mind it is perhaps unsurprising that progress in this area has tended to draw on traditional academic knowledge. Developments in this regard therefore tend to look at amendments to listings, approaching existing knowledge from different perspectives.

Question (Church Heritage Project Officer) – I understand that there are to be changes to the Pride of Place website. Are you in a position to give more details?

Answer – On the basis of ideas developed by a focus group the site will be changing, probably during late July, with a switch to Historypin. The web pages will look rather different and some IDs and passwords will change but it is hoped that the process will be a smooth one. The map cannot be brought in-house by Historic England due to a lack of resources.

Question (HER Officer 5) – Has there been any need for moderation in the crowd-sourcing?

Answer – No major problems have emerged. The most common transgression so far has been people trying to make changes to the map in areas outside England.

The Welsh Historic Environment Act 2016 and its implications for Welsh HERs - Gwilym Hughes (Cadw)

The Welsh Historic Environment Act is quite probably the most progressive piece of historic environment legislation passed in some decades. A small team at Cadw has been helping to pull the measures together over the last 2-3 years and their efforts came to fruition last month when the first elements began to be enacted.

The act forms part of a framework of legislation and supporting policy and guidance. This includes greater clarity in the area of planning policy and in particular in respect of archaeology in the planning system. Chapter 6 of Planning Policy Wales deals specifically with the care of the historic environment and has recently been put out for consultation (ending in May 2016). To support its role within the act, Planning Policy and supporting guidance documents and a Technical Advice Note are to be revised and published. These include Heritage Impact Assessments and other mechanisms intended to underpin the creation of well-informed heritage consent applications. A three month consultation period on this material has now begun.

The new Act itself includes amendments to existing legislation (with specific application to the Welsh context). The 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act is (amongst other things) to be strengthened in respect of its powers relating to damage done to scheduled monuments and will include an extended definition of what can be protected under the act. There will also be amendments to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 including measures relating to temporary stop notices and extending the scope of urgent works.

Other headline measures include provision made for Heritage Partnership Agreements, historic parks and gardens, historic place names (see below) and the formation of an advisory panel for the historic environment in Wales. Since a minority government was in power in Wales during the drafting process, there was need for negotiation with a range of political groups and the consensus of opinion is that the act has been improved in consequence. 
Turning to the operation of Historic Environment Records in Wales, the provision of HER services has now achieved statutory status underpinned by defined responsibilities. These are given specific attention in sections 35 to 37 of the act (section 36 dealing with access to HERs and section 37 constituting supporting guidance). The cross-party negotiation mentioned above also resulted in an additional responsibility to compile and maintain a directory of place names for Wales.  

The scrutiny by the National Assembly resulted in changes to Section 35 wherein the responsibility for compiling and keeping HERs up to date has been switched from local planning authorities to Welsh ministers. Whilst placing matters in the hands of local authorities had a logical consistency, it did involve introducing a ‘middle man’ into the traditional structuring (in which trusts, not authorities maintained HERs). The move would also have involved local authorities in decisions that lay beyond the planning process (place names, for example, being within the remit of highways departments). Thus the emphasis in the revised arrangement can be seen as representing a striving for the appropriate use of HER data. 

Following consultation, it is now intended that the guidance provided in Section 37 will be changed from the format in which it was originally circulated. Its final iteration will be one which reflects this emphasis on the compilation and use of an HER rather than (as was the case in the original consultation draft), trying to define its role and content - including benchmarks and standards. Arrangements will also need to be made for the formal discharge of HER responsibility through the archaeological trusts before the relevant parts of the Act can be commenced. 
Question (Ben Wallace, Warwickshire County Council) – The Welsh guidance on HERs has been used as a foundation for a definition of English HERs which is currently being drafted. Wasn’t there a need for a document of this type?

Answer – The re-writing of the guidance reflects the change in the act giving responsibility to Welsh ministers rather than local authorities. The principles contained in the original document will still need to be published but not as part of the revised guidance.              

National Record for the Historic Environment to HER – Crispin Flower (exeGesIS SDM).

This project proceeds from the premise that the National Record for the Historic Environment (NRHE) will cease to be maintained for terrestrial recording, with its constituent data being migrated to the relevant local HERs and assimilated into their databases for continued management at that level. It stemmed from an earlier initiative, the Data Supply and Reconciliation Project undertaken by Devon County Council HER. The concept is in keeping with the vision of the Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS) which promulgates the idea of HERs as the primary and trusted source of local heritage data.

The project was framed on the basis of a workshop held in November 2014 which considered three potential mechanisms for undertaking the transfer of data. The least technical of these (based on manual processing) was eventually pursued as the preferred option (a conclusion which received further support in a subsequent e-conference hosted by the HER Forum). The resulting report was incorporated in a design for the new project, managed by exeGesIS SDM, with elements sub-contracted to selected HERs.

Now entering its seventh phase (of ten), the project is structuring methodologies and mechanisms which will be integrated within a new website to divide up the data and capture information regarding what has gone where and how it has been processed.

Looking back at earlier stages, getting hold of the data initially proved difficult and some technical shortcomings resulted in elements of the material becoming degraded. Ultimately, however, nine MIDAS XML ‘type’ gobbets, 17 CSV files (for events) and an ESRI database for spatial data were produced. The components were brought together in an SQL server database into which the spatial data was integrated using ‘GIS Squirrel’. (Thematic filtering wasn’t added as it was not seen as relevant to the project).

Having filtered out around 35,000 items (the majority maritime) the resulting data is now held as a website with interactive map. OS ordnance data is used for base-mapping and the record is structured according to a minimalist ‘easily grab-able’ format. The system contains a Q & A tab with enquiries going directly through to the HE Data Training and Documentation Supervisor.  
Once the data has been made available its checking and processing needs to be monitored and progress recorded. In order to do this the HER is required to flag up at least one identifier for each record processed and provide details as to the nature of the equation drawn with an existing HER record (or records). To undertake this second phase 25 HERs have each done 2 day’s work attempting to compare and match NRHE and HER data. This concluded, further comment and opinion will be elicited through questionnaires and telephone interviews. Then, following a concluding analysis by the project team, the source code for the new system will be handed over to Historic England and a final report produced.

Question (questioner unidentified) – Is there any comparable initiative in Wales?

Answer (Chris Martin, Regional Archaeologist, Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust) – It is presently intended that the national and HER records in Wales will continue to be maintained in parallel.  

Comment (Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments, HE) - The SHED strategy in Scotland does have similarities with HIAS.

Question (HER Officer 6) – Does Historic England have any plans to digitise its paper archives to allow this information to be assimilated into HERs?

Answer (Heritage Information Partnerships Manager, HE) – We have an on-going programme of digitisation and we are currently carrying out a review of the HE archives to help us understand and plan for existing and future challenges. 

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(Follow link for presentation PowerPoint slides).