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18/01/2021

Jenrick outlines laws to protect statues

Words: Laura Edgar
Statue of slave trader Edward Coulson / Jacek Wojnarowski, Shutterstock_593823833

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has set out legal protections that aim to protect England’s cultural and historic heritage - such as statues.

The protections come in the wake of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston’s statue being toppled and dropped in the harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol last year.

Colston’s statue was pulled down after George Floyd was killed during his arrest in Minneapolis, US – sparking protests across America and around the world.

Jenrick said historic statues should be “retained and explained” for future generations.

Should people want to remove a historic statue, whether listed or not, listed building consent or planning permission is now required.

If a council intends to grant permission for the removal of a statue and Historic England objects, the communities secretary will be notified to make the final decision about the specific request. The new policy of “retain and explain” will be applied, which means that permission will be granted only in “the most exceptional circumstances”.

According to the government, the new rules will protect 20,000 statues and monuments throughout England for future generations.

The rules also apply to unlisted historic plaques, memorials and monuments.

Jenrick said: “For hundreds of years, public statues and monuments have been erected across the country to celebrate individuals and great moments in British history.

“They reflected the people’s preferences at the time, not a single, official narrative or doctrine. They are hugely varied, some loved, some reviled, but all part of the weft and weave of our uniquely rich history and built environment.

“We cannot – and should not – now try to edit or censor our past. That’s why I am changing the law to protect historic monuments and ensure we don’t repeat the errors of previous generations, losing our inheritance of the past without proper care.

“What has stood for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim, any removal should require planning permission and local people should have the chance to be properly consulted. Our policy in law will be clear, that we believe in explaining and retaining heritage, not tearing it down.”

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden added: “I strongly believe that we should learn from our past – in order to retain and explain our rich history.

“The decisions we make now will shape the environment inherited by our children and grandchildren.

“It is our duty to preserve our culture and heritage for future generations and these new laws will help to do so.”

Image credit | Jacek Wojnarowski-Shutterstock

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