6 Jan 2013

English Heritage blue plaques threatened by cuts

English Heritage plans to stop erecting blue plaques which mark the homes of famous former occupants unless more funding can be found to maintain the scheme.

Nelson Mandela unveils a blue plaque celebrating South African freedom fighters in 2003 in London (R)

English Heritage said the plaques, which were first installed in London in 1867, are under question as the quango is faced with budget cuts. It says it will honour existing commitments but can not accept any new nominations.

The decision is outlined in a letter to a blue plaque campaigner from Dr Emily Cole, head of English Heritage’s blue plaques team.

She said the advisory panel of experts – which includes Stephen Fry, former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion and broadcaster Bonnie Greer – ‘will be stood down’.

Dr Cole wrote: “These are extremely difficult times for English Heritage and for the scheme, which has a very uncertain future.”

No new nominations accepted

English Heritage, whose annual budget has been cut from £130m to £92m, may also seek private sponsorship to try to maintain the scheme.

“Following our 34 per cent funding cut in the 2010 spending settlement, English Heritage commissioners made the decision that the blue plaque scheme was to be funded in an alternative way in the future,” a spokesperson said.

“As a step towards creating a new and more self-sustaining scheme, the blue plaques team will be reduced to two people during 2013. They will continue to erect plaques already agreed by the independent advisory panel and work up the details of a new approach to running the scheme that will be announced in 2014.”

There are currently 896 plaques placed on buildings in the UK, predominately in London.

Since English Heritage took charge of the scheme in 1986, it has erected more than 350 of the polaques, celebrating people including Jimi Hendrix and comedian Kenneth Williams.