The development at both national and local level of a more integrated approach to the management of the historic environment is leading to the creation of information sources that are broader in scope than is usually understood by the term 'SMR'. For example, links are being established between databases and geographic information systems covering different aspects of the environment such as historic buildings, archaeology, geology, and biological records. In some authorities, new teams are being established and this brings with it the challenge of ensuring that the skills of the different subject specialists are adequately represented. These developments have already lead to a rethinking of the name 'Sites and Monuments Record' with some adopting the style 'Historic Environment Records' (HERs).
The trend towards integration of archaeology, the built environment and biological records reflects national government policy towards modernisation. A recent Modernising Government White Paper sets out a timetable for government departments to deliver services to the public which 'join-up' functions currently served by different departments. Government departments are required to develop a timetable for implementing electronic services that are available for 24 hours each day. These requirements are likely to give increased impetus to SMRs in enhancing their databases, adopting GIS and digitising collections to provide greater public access in line with the government's stated objective of access for all, not just a few. Overall, these pressures, with the establishment of regional agencies by national government, will pose the question whether the current structure of SMR provision can adequately resource the needs of a more 'joined-up' approach to the historic environment. In 2000, English Heritage published the results of a wide-ranging review of government policy on the historic environment, Power of Place, which included a recommendation that Historic Environment Record Centres (HERCs) be established. The government's response to this review was published in late 2001 (HMSO 2001) as The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future. This promised that a consultation document would be issued on options for the creation of a system of HERs. This was issued July 2003, entitled Historic Environment Records: Benchmarks for Good Practice. Alongside these developments, there have also been calls for the maintenance of SMRs to be made a statutory duty for local authorities, for example in a report by the All Parliamentary Archaeology Action Group (APPAG). However, it is uncertain how this will be approached in the government consultation.
Whatever the result of the government consultation it is clear that
standards and performance targets will need to be established for
HERs. To assist with this process, a benchmarking study has been
prepared and has met with widespread acceptance (Chitty 2002). One of the uses for this
report will be to estimate the resources needed to bring
all current SMRs and emerging HERs up to standard. Whether these
resources can be found is, of course, another matter entirely.
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Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004