Tax Lawyer, La Demeure Historique, FRANCE
What is your background and why did you become interested in heritage?
I come from a family where culture occupies a prominent place. I grew up in Fontainebleau, a city famous for its magnificent castle and its many mansions, and I could only think of putting the knowledge acquired during my years of study to the service of a great cause, hoping that through my work, through the links that I build each day with the members, I will have played a part in the preservation of heritage
What is the focus of your PhD?
My PhD aims to centralise the legal tools that can be mobilised to help manage a private historical monument, especially when it is operated as a real economic entity.
Indeed 50% of our listed buildings are now in private hands. Faced with declining public subsidies, more and more owners are turning to commercial activities to fund the maintenance of their buildings. But there are legal implications in the emergence of these new business models.
Tell us about the role of La Demeure Historique – why the French government supports it?
The Demeure Historique is an association created in 1924, by a group of owners of private historical buildings who were convinced that the future lay in opening their houses to the public. Today the association has 2500 members, it is recognised by the public authorities as a "union", one which defends the interests of private historical buildings and supports its members, technically and legally, in all aspects inherent in the management of a monument.
You are the main contact for the group ‘les jeunes repreneurs de monuments historiques’?
Tell us why this group was formed.
The average age of people participating in the association is quite high. Then one day at a meeting I talked to a young woman (who has since become a close friend) about her wish to be able to exchange with other young people who, like her, would one day be charged with the destiny of an historical building. Since March 2016, the French next gen group has kept growing, and it embodies the future for private historical buildings. The current president wants to give them an increasing place in the association.
Who is represented on this group? How do they interact with La Demeure Historique and how do you assist les jeunes repreneurs ?
There are three members of the next gen group on the board of the association, and the group is totally integrated in the life of the association. We are organising a series of events to allow members to share experiences and best practice. We also organise training seminars. I am friends with many of them; not only do I give them legal advice, but they can count on me to offer moral support, and help them in their projects.
What inspires you about how heritage property owners manage their places?
Their energy, this hope in future that they have, inspire me every day, the passion never leaves them, and they reinvent themselves to guarantee the future of their properties. All sacrifice themselves to guarantee the future of this piece of heritage for which they are the custodians. I really admire them.
What are some of the incentives that the French government provides to owners of heritage properties?
They are three categories of support. The State has subsidies to restore historical buildings, but unfortunately, the decrease in State appropriations has led to a progressive diminution in this source of financing.
There is also a specific tax regime for owners, but without a substantial income it is difficult to finance the maintenance of the monument.
For the past 10 years, owners have also been able to benefit from certain types of patronage like private philanthropy and crowdfunding, which have become decisive factors given the progressive disengagement of the State.
Would you like to see governments do more to assist these owners? Are there other European countries where the models for support are quite different ? Tell us a little about them.
France is one of the best-endowed European countries in terms of subsidies to privately-owned historical monuments. Other European countries, such as Italy, are struggling to finance the maintenance of old buildings. Recently, in Italy, a campaign was offered to people with a project to take back monuments for one euro.
Conversely, the United Kingdom has long been aware of the need to develop activities in old houses. I admire the work done by the National Trust, but sadly the legal environment in France is very restrictive and can be an obstacle to setting up new projects in historical buildings.
We aspire to more flexibility in the future, and a better recognition of the role of private owners.
What do you think are the most important issues for the future of sustainable heritage properties?
Historical buildings must be innovative places, must constantly revise, to take their rightful place in the economy
What do you hope to achieve when you visit Australia?
Learn from Australian private owners, of course, discover another model perhaps, and another way to tackle issues. It’s also an opportunity to enrich my research about the models used by foreign countries.
Do your family have any regrets about introducing tourism and hospitality services into your 6th generation rural property?
As anyone working in tourism and hospitality would know, it doesn’t tend to be a 9am – 5pm, 5 day a week industry, so the downside is that it has impacted on own quality “family time”. Having good staff and set “closed” periods can help mitigate this impact.
How do you think The Historic Houses Association might best support owners like you who are developing alternative commercial activities that build on the historic asset that you own?
The Association could provide information on potential funding grants, guidelines on relevant regulations and case studies on successful commercial activities on historical properties. They could also provide guidance and letters of support for relevant funding grants and development proposals.
What are the best and worst features of opening your property to the public?
Opening our property to the public has helped fund maintenance of the many historic buildings on the property and resulted in us meeting some fabulous people. Diversification has also been important in providing opportunities for new income streams and building business resilience.
Have you been supported or hindered by government processes as you have developed new business activities and what would be your advice to others embarking on this path?
We have had good support and communication with relevant government bodies on our activities and developments. Providing the relevant documentation for business approvals and development plans can be a time consuming and costly process so it is best to communicate with the relevant bodies early so they can provide input or flag any potential issues. They may also be able to provide information on availability of relevant grants.
NSW HERITAGE COUNCIL
What is the key message of your talk at the conference?
Message: Don’t be afraid of heritage listing- especially if you are a house owner.
Many owners feel that a heritage listed house is a liability rather than an asset. From your experience, why are many private owners concerned if their house is ‘listed’ on a local or state government heritage list?
I think people see it as a potential liability until they own the dwelling. There may be some expense and time but it is shown that the value is in the heritage properties in more cases than not.
What’s the best way for owners of historic houses to understand the ramifications of a heritage listing.
Talk to their local Council. Talk to the Heritage Division. Go to the websites. If need advice- there are many good heritage advisors to deal with.
How can state and local governments best support owners of heritage houses and properties?
State and local governments vary - some local Councils are excellent – others are poor in their performance. The issue is that there is little consistency and it can depend on the Council and their representative. For the State it can vary over time and with each person involved as well. Both generally deal with the heritage issues in an efficient and professional manner but sometimes additional advice is required.
How do you think the HHA can best meet the needs of owners of historic houses.
The HHA can be a sounding board for owners and hopefully provide counselling on the best people to talk to and the process they should follow. It can be a professional resource – but must temper its enthusiasm to members and more important properties and/or those open to the public - as it cannot be a reference point for the general heritage homeowner.
Principal, Ashley Built Heritage, Sydney, NSW
What were the key needs of owners of historic houses you discovered when you recently reviewed 150 properties on the Victorian Heritage Register?
The review found that in terms of the needs of owners:
privately owned heritage places can have a large public benefit;
there are opportunities for improved communication, including having a ‘go to’ person in Heritage Victoria and/or in the local government area;
a review and updating of VHR citations will assist in the management of these heritage places;
alternative governance and volunteer arrangements associated with community involvement in the conservation of VHR places should be investigated; and
traditional trade skills training will assist the long-term conservation of Victoria’s State heritage places.
Are owners of historic houses on state government registers aware of the statutory responsibilities registration has on them and their properties and what views do they hold of these obligations?
Generally, owners were very aware of the significance of their property, although the level of appreciation of the obligations and actual statutory responsibilities that flowed from that significance varied. As noted above, improved communication both ways will assist in providing clarity in regard to statutory responsibilities.
Victoria recently established a grant funding program to support owners? Is this a positive development?
Grant funding programs can be critical in assisting the implementation of catch-up works programs, but as the Living Heritage project showed, implementing ongoing cyclic maintenance as well as having ongoing uses are also key things that are needed to augment grants programs.
How do you see the professional conservation community being best able to support owners of historic houses?
Having heritage professionals available on the ground in local areas to provide advice is critical and State government support of programs such as LGA heritage advisors networks is one way this can be achieved.
An interview between Maisy Stapleton and Peter Watts on Arts Thursday with Maisy Stapleton - 89.7 Eastside FM on
8 March 2018.
Vice President, European Historic Houses Association
former President, Historic Houses Association, London,
Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire, UNITED KINGDOM
1. What are the concessions government gives you in return for opening your house to the public?
We received repair grants and opening for about 50 days a year over a ten year period was a condition of the grant. We can deduct the cost of repairs and maintenance from income for tax purposes and reclaim VAT. Any assets that are part of the business currently qualify for 100% relief from Inheritance Tax.
2. Do you regret having to open your house to the public in return for these concessions?
No. The layout and size of our house means that we can live relatively privately during public openings and we have use of a small private garden. I like having the money to spend on repairs and maintenance too so no regrets. Our house was also open in the 19th century.
3. It seems that in Britain opening houses has become a serious business for many owners and is perhaps their principal source of income. Is this the case or do they only open because they are required to do so in return for concessions?
It varies, of course. Most owners have other income from land or rented property, game shooting, park events and external employment. Few houses generate enough income from opening to cover living expenses as well as repairs and other costs.
4. What are the best and worst aspects of opening privately owned and occupied historic houses to the public?
Having the money coming in and seeing the public having a happy time with their children and dogs are the best aspects.
Dealing with drunken and injured wedding guests and unnecessary breakages is the worst aspect.