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Notes from the Chair of AD:uk

One of the noticeable differences between the Coalition government and the old administration is a significant reduction in the number of cultural initiatives coming out of the centre. Now I’ve said before that I don’t wish a return to the initiative overload we experienced under the previous regime, but it has taken some time to work out what the Coalition cultural policy actually is. That emerged – as I reported back in July – from the network meeting the Department of Culture, Media and Sport organises for local authorities.  And the DCMS priorities, to reprise, are London 2012, contributing to growth, tourism and the school games, with arms-length support to the arts through the Arts Council of England, and a ‘localism’ approach to libraries, culture and heritage.

 In fact, what seems to be coming clear is not the impact of cultural policy itself, but the impact on culture arising out of other policy areas.  And that is a worryingly negative impact.  Two issues are currently causing concern – the first, the impact of the new proposed national planning policy framework and the second, the review of the national curriculum and proposals for the English Baccalaureate (a traditionalist approach disguised under the contemporary – and inelegant – shortening, ‘E-Bacc’), a topic I’ll return to another week.

The planning issue is causing much angst among countryside and heritage interests, and in cultural circles the omission of any cultural dimension is stirring up debate.  AD:uk will be making a response to this, and you can see more on that directly below this item.  Take a look also at the Theatres’ Trust response here.  It is thought that 47% of councils do not have core plans in place, leaving them only six months to assess, identify and designate land needed for housing, shops, roads and industry – with, you will note, no mention of community, cultural, sport or leisure provision.

 While much planning falls to district councils, we’ve had some success here at West Sussex as we have agreed an ‘Infrastructure Plan’ that sets out the county council’s planning priorities relating to its own services (such as fire and rescue, waste management, schools etc) associated with the key towns.  This also includes sections on climate change, environment and heritage, economic development, culture and sport and the like. 

 The culture and sport section refers to the West Sussex Cultural Strategy, so is concerned not simply with the built infrastructure, but also with what we see as the ‘soft’ infrastructure that includes encouraging links between cultural and education providers, acknowledges that creative people need places to meet and exchange ideas and encourages development of the night time economy.  Having that section has had two particular advantages.  Firstly, because we developed it along with my district and borough cultural service colleagues, it does refer to their cultural ambitions for their key places.  That has given them a hook in engaging with their own planners when the Infrastructure Plan went out for consultation – and not all cultural service officers find it easy to break into planning debates.

 Secondly, when district plans come into the county council for comment, my planning colleagues have also asked for my views on the proposals.  So – for instance – a recent application that related to leisure and quoted the district’s own plans for mixed cultural use, I was able to flag up that the proposal was exclusively about sport provision. 

 I’m sure many others already have similar and superior processes for dealing with planning issues, but the point is that although the new planning framework doesn’t require culture to be included, it doesn’t mean it can’t be there.  AD:uk would welcome other examples of good practice in this area, so do let us know if you have ways of working others could learn from.  We will though of course be making representation that places need more than houses, shops and roads for social as well as economic reasons.

Lorna Brown
Chair of Arts Development UK
Tel: 01243 756770, email: lorna.brown@westsussex.gov.uk