In the first of a new quarterly column, the work of the Railway Heritage Designation Advisory Board is described by its co-chairman, Richard Faulkner (Lord Faulkner of Worcester).
As long ago as 1845 Benjamin Disraeli wrote in his novel Sybil: ‘The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did’, and there has been a love affair between the British people and their railways ever since.
Like most intense relationships it has had its ups and downs, but the one aspect that everyone agrees on is our railway heritage is important and worth preserving.
What sets Britain apart from every other country – and the railway uniquely compared with all other industries – is that its heritage is protected by a law – the Railway Heritage Act – passed in 1996 immediately following Privatisation.
This means artefacts and records that are significant to the nation’s railway story are subject to ‘designation’ – a process that means they cannot be disposed of without the express permission of the statutory body given these powers by Parliament.
Initially, this was the Railway Heritage Committee (RHC), which was a stand-alone independent non-departmental public body.
The RHC was abolished in the coalition Government’s ‘bonfire of the Quangos’ in 2013, but crucially I was able to persuade ministers that even if the committee disappeared, it was vital the designation and disposal powers were maintained.