Post debate photo L-R: Kay Powell Trustee, Jack Sargeant MS, Hefin David MS, Elaine Davey Trustee, Charlotte Rogers Trustee, Pat Jones-Jenkins Trustee, Jane Price Trustee, John Griffiths MS
A popular petition to save all nationally important monuments at risk gained strong cross party support during a Senedd debate.
The Senedd Cymru plenary on 18 October, has the potential to change the future of Ruperra Castle, Caerphilly, and around 600 other nationally important Scheduled Monuments at risk in Wales.
Whilst Deputy Minister Dawn Bowden has decided not to make conservation management plans compulsory for the 14% of scheduled monuments at risk, she will meet with members of the Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust to discuss the situation at Ruperra Castle further.
This is in view of the Trust’s concern that the condition trend of Ruperra Castle recorded by Cadw earlier this year was “worsened severe”, it’s current condition judged as “unfavourable” with “high vulnerability”, and the monument at risk level “high immediate”.
The debate was recommended by the Senedd Petitions Committee after a petition by the Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust, campaigning to save the Castle, attracted over 10,500 signatures.
In the debate Dawn Bowden, Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said: “Each owner is a custodian of our past and has a vital role to play in helping to protect our heritage for future generations. So turning now to the use of and value of conservation management plans, it is important to recognise that, even when in place, these are not formal legal documents, so they are operational tools the owners create for themselves, usually working with heritage consultants and conservation architects to help them understand the significance of their assets and plan how to manage and conserve them. Increasingly, however, they are a requirement to support applications for grant funding from bodies such as Cadw and from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, but it is important to say that they are not the only way to manage monuments, and, of course, their effectiveness is dependent upon their implementation.
“Now I understand that while Ruperra Castle does not have a conservation management plan, the owner has now informed Cadw that he is working on the preparation of a masterplan for all the historic assets in his ownership, including the Castle. I am pleased to report he is also in discussion with Cadw about a grant towards the structural assessment of the historic building recording of the Castle - information from which can inform decisions about its conservation requirements and the management of the adjacent footpath.”
All seven Senedd Members who spoke in the debate were in support of the petition and the Presiding Officer shared that there were many others who wished to speak but the time allocation did not allow.
Caerphilly MS Hefin David said: “The previous Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee produced a report that recommended that what would become, then, the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 should be kept under review. I know that the Act was superseded by the 2023 Act, which received Royal Assent this year, but the Committee and ourselves would argue that that was a Consolidation Act, it wasn't a review. So, we really need to see a thorough review, as that Act did not make provision for compulsory conservation management plans. At the very least, we'd like to look at how just this site can be serviced if you cannot agree to compulsory management plans. But we still hold out hope. What I'd like to say is that the fight will go on with Ruperra Castle.
Natasha Asghar, Member of the Welsh Parliament for South East Wales, said: “I was incredibly disappointed in the Minister's response to this petition, rejecting the Trust's calls. In her letter, the Minister says there were no calls for compulsory conservation management plans during a consultation period on the Historic Environment (Wales) Act. Well, I'd argue that's simply not the case…”
Plaid Cymru South Wales East MS Delyth Jewell said: “If the Government isn't minded to take that action, I'd welcome hearing more about what the Government feels should be done to prevent us from losing sites and buildings of such significance. Because buildings are more than bricks; they bring our history to life. I think about the living history we get from place like Llancaiach Fawr near where I live, which allows children and people of all ages to walk in the footsteps of people from our past, to learn and see our world through their eyes if only for a moment, and those glimpses, again, are powerful. And there are other reasons why Ruperra itself should be protected - for the woodlands, the grasslands, the native species that make their homes there, like the greater horseshoe bat. The residents of Ruperra today and from her past deserve that dignity and that protection.”
A spokesperson for the Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust said: “We are delighted at the strength of cross party support for this issue which was shown in the debate. We recognise that thousands of people will be disappointed that the Welsh Government is not making immediate plans to make conservation management plans compulsory for nationally important scheduled monuments at risk.”
“We were pleased to hear the latest update from the Deputy Minister about Cadw’s discussions with Ruperra Castle’s owner regarding a structural survey. The results of this will be the first step to inform decisions about its future and identify solutions to reduce the immediate risk of the Castle collapsing onto a nearby Grade II Listed Building, and the public right of way - which continues to remain closed. We welcome the opportunity to work with Cadw and the owner in future.”
Many scheduled monuments need to be managed to slow or avoid the effects of natural deterioration. Cadw’s website suggests owners of Scheduled Monuments may find it useful to draw up a Conservation Management Plan to guide their decisions, but it’s not a requirement.
There are currently 4,229 designated Scheduled Monuments in Wales. Current estimates from Cadw, the Welsh Historic Environment Service, indicate that around 14%-14.5% of these are at risk.
Scheduled Monument Ruperra Castle, in South East Wales, is an example of the poor management of our historic environment. It is architecturally unique and historically significant as the only pageant Castle in Wales, built for show and not defence. In December 1941 it was gutted by fire and is still a ruin at risk having deteriorated in the intervening years. One of the towers has fallen and without considered intervention it will deteriorate further and soon be lost…