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Historic Scotland's role in restoration - Comment piece by Jim MacDonald

14 August 2009

Scotland is a country graced by an enviable legacy of historic buildings and monuments. These buildings and monuments not only enrich the lives of the people who live in Scotland but which also play a vital role in attracting others to visit our country and enjoy our culture and history.  In this way they are an important cultural and economic resource.

The interest, both at home and abroad, in our heritage is huge and as well as  generating economic benefits through tourism, it can support and encourage investment in businesses, local communities and the wider Scottish economy. All of this means that Historic Scotland, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, has a crucial role to play in managing our the historic environment in partnership with others.

In his recent article, Peter Clarke was absolutely right to highlight how a building can inspire people. However, Mr Clarke’s comments also contain some commonly held misconceptions about the role and ethos of Historic Scotland.  

Historic Scotland, along with many other parts of government, is modernising. The Agency is engaged in the Government’s planning reform agenda by adopting a more customer-focused approach to our work and is determined to ensure our processes are transparent and support a positive engagement with our partners.

We engage with applicants, external groups, local authorities, community bodies and elected members to explain the Government’s policies on the historic environment and our role in implementing these. We do this in order that our position can be fully understood and to encourage an understanding of managing and working with the historic environment.

As an example of Historic Scotland’s moderinsation, Culture Minister Michael Russell in May of this year launched a new project, the Scottish Castles Initiative. The Initiative, to be managed by us, will identify castles and tower-houses, across Scotland, which are suitable for future restoration and development to drive economic investment and tourism to Scotland during the current climate and beyond.  

The initiative is the first of its kind to  be undertaken by the Scottish Government and aims to encourage investment in and refurbishment of Scotland’s built heritage during the economic downturn. It will also provide advice on process, good practice and exemplars of similar projects in the past with the aim of re-using and revitalising existing buildings. As part of this, we created an external group to encourage contributions from a variety of experts and appointed conservation architects, Simpson and Brown, to co-write this advice.

The guidance will include an online register of towers and castles where we believe that restoration represents the sustainable means of securing their long term future while protecting their significance to the nation. The Initiative’s website and first round of properties will be launched this month.

This represents a sustainable approach to ensuring that Scotland’s historic buildings play a role in the future economic development of this country. Investment in such projects, whether it’s to create rented apartments, a hotel – a great opportunity within the tourism industry - or another commercial enterprise can link the growth of Scotland’s economy with innovative new ways to manage our heritage.
Historic Scotland is tasked with preserving our country’s great architectural heritage for future generations while managing the historic environment in a way which encourages investment and restoration for renewed use -  where that offers the best chance for a building’s sustainable future.

Encouragingly, Scotland has a good history of successful restoration where new uses, within the legislation, and financial budgets, can be met and extremely beneficial.”

We have an enviable architectural legacy in this country that is championed by people giving their time, energy, expertise, passion and significant financial investment to celebrating it and Historic Scotland remains committed to helping them continue do so.


Jim MacDonald
Deputy Chief Inspector at Historic Scotland

For further information


Lisa Nicholson
Communications and Media Manager
Communications and Media
0131 668 8852 or 07500 065 438
lisa.nicholson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk