New rules to protect statues

The government is to introduce tough new planning regulations to prevent statues being removed, to a chorus of criticism from the heritage sector.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has announced legislation coming into force this spring to compel local authorities to get planning permission before altering or removing “heritage assets”, such as the statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan removed from London’s Docklands on the instructions of London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan (pictured).

Jenrick said local planning authorities would be obliged to follow the government’s “retain and explain” policy on heritage, which he said “now forms part of national planning policy and should be applied accordingly”, and warned that he would “not hesitate to use those powers” to call in planning decisions for his own determination “where I consider such action is necessary to reflect the government’s planning policies”.

But the move has been seen as to strong a measure to boost traditional understanding of history. “The Museums Association (MA) supports measures to help everyone understand the impact and legacy of empire and slavery” said the MA’s director Sharon Heal. “Many museums are looking at their collections and buildings in consultation with their local communities to uncover hidden histories and we think that is ethically the right thing to do. Decolonisation is not about rewriting history but about exploring and uncovering untold stories. Our museums and galleries are ideal places to provide the context to understand the complexity of the past and what that means today.”

“It's almost as if they want to distract people from their lethally failed response to the pandemic and the consequences of a disastrous Brexit” the historian David Olusoga tweeted, and Dan Hicks, a curator at the Putt Rivers Museum on Oxford, asked “Will planning permission be required to move any park bench with a plaque?”

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