HISTORIC Environment Scotland’s (HES) decision to close properties in the Scottish Borders and Lothians, including Tantallon Castle and Dirleton Castle, due to health and safety concerns is surely a poor reflection on the organisation’s recent management of these sites.

The risk of falling masonry indicates a lack of resource and maintenance to adequately protect the properties entrusted in its care by Scottish Ministers.

This at a time when, in the last 10 years or so, there has been significant investment in larger properties such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles and the multi-million-pound Engine Shed in Stirling – ironically, a project which aims to promote good stewardship within the historic environment.

When speaking to HES employees recently at a property further north, they complained that, as experienced stonemasons, they spent a lot of their time cutting grass and painting railings – is this seriously a good use of their time when monuments have been in need of repair and maintenance?

If senior management within the organisation, some of whom are understood to have worked there for more than 10 years, were unaware of the condition of their sites, or were responsible for overseeing a period of under investment at these properties, they should hang their heads in shame and consider their positions as decision makers at the head of Scotland’s national heritage body.

No doubt media-friendly excuses will be rolled out or the blame passed to those further down the corporate food chain, but be under no illusion that not only does the health and safety buck stop with those at the top of the organisation, so do the circumstances which led to the closure of these sites.

Little do they realise the impact of closing properties in small towns and the effect this has on businesses already reeling from Covid-19, many of whom rely on the custom of visitors and occasional events to stay viable.

Social media feeds from HES are quick to remind owners of older buildings on the importance of maintenance, but it would seem HES has been ignoring its own advice – it simply is not good enough. HES has become an inflated, centralist and top-heavy organisation, increasingly, it would seem, disinterested in its less profitable farther flung properties.

It has just demonstrated that it is ill equipped to look after the special places entrusted to the organisation on our behalf – sadly, heads should roll.

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