A New Historic Environment Act for Wales

The Historic Environment (Wales) Act was passed by the National Assembly for Wales on 9 February 2016 and became law on 21 March 2016. The Act amends the two pieces of UK legislation — the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 — that provide the principal framework for the protection and management of the historic environment. It represents a remarkable achievement and is the first historic environment legislation enacted specifically for Wales. There are over 4,000 scheduled monuments and almost 30,000 listed buildings in Wales and the historic environment supports nearly 40,000 jobs.

The 2016 Act was the product of four years of development. Extensive conversations with heritage professionals, voluntary organisations and the public gave a clear idea of the challenges facing Wales’ historic environment and the need for effective and flexible mechanisms to protect and manage it. The Act makes the designation of scheduled monuments and listed buildings more open and transparent. The new law also extends the definition of a monument so that any sites that provide evidence of past human activity can be scheduled. This will allow the protection of early prehistoric sites or later historic battlefields that consist only of scatters of artefacts or other slight traces of human activity.

Offa's Dyke
© Crown copyright (2016) Welsh Government

Between 2006 and 2015, Wales recorded 252 cases of damage to scheduled monuments, but only a handful of prosecutions. A 2013 case highlighted the vulnerability of even well-known monuments. A section of the 1,200-year-old Offa’s Dyke was flattened, but, after a nine-month investigation, the police concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal offence. The Act, therefore, improves protection for Wales’ scheduled monuments.

It makes it more difficult for individuals who damage protected monuments to escape prosecution by pleading ignorance of a monument’s status or location. It also introduces temporary stop and enforcement notices for scheduled monuments, so Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, will be able to put an immediate halt to unauthorised works and order repairs without the need to go to court.   

A comparable temporary stop notice allows Welsh local planning authorities to end unauthorised works to listed buildings. The Act also widens the powers of local authorities to undertake urgent works for the preservation of a listed building and helps them to recover costs. Provision has also been made for the creation of a preservation notice to address the problem of deliberately neglected listed buildings. This notice will be introduced through regulations after further research and legislative development. 

Other measures will support more effective management. Voluntary heritage partnership agreements between owners, other interested parties and consenting authorities will encourage consistent, long-term management of designated historic assets and deliver savings for all involved by incorporating consents for agreed works. A statutory register of historic parks and gardens will contribute to the sustainable management of these important elements of the historic environment. 

In a move that puts Wales at the forefront of the UK nations, the Act places the Welsh historic environment records on a statutory footing. The records are crucial sources of information for people who make decisions about the sustainable management of the historic environment, as well as for members of the public. A new statutory list of historic Welsh place names will be made available through the historic environment records. This will record the country’s rich legacy of place names, raise public awareness of their importance and help to inform the decision making of certain public bodies.

Implementation of the Act will continue into 2017, alongside the production of new Planning policy and advice and a wide-ranging series of best-practice guidance documents that will augment its provisions. Cadw has published regular e-bulletins throughout the development of the Act, keeping everyone well informed and nurturing a sense of heritage community. If you would like to receive future updates, email: historicenvironmentleg@wales.gsi.gov.uk


The full text of the Act and the Explanatory Notes are available on the internet at www.legislation.gov.uk.

For further information, visit the Cadw website: http://cadw.gov.wales/historicenvironment/policy/historicenvironmentbill/?lang=en