Blue plaques have been used to Inspire Londoners commemorating the personal achievements of exceptional residents for the past 150 years. Now the popular scheme have halted new applications, for a two year period, due to funding cuts to English Heritage, the body that oversees the program. The plaque program was founded by the Royal Society of Arts. It passed to London County Council and then the Greater London Council from 1901 to 1986 before it passed to English Heritage.
The committee that oversees the commissioning of the plaques have stated that due to funding cuts of 34% and a budget cut from £130m in 2010/11 to £92m by 2014, no new nominations will be taken for the next two years. It is thought that the last plaque will be commemorated over the next two year period. In the past, installations have only been halted during times of war and the subsequent economic hardship in 1915 to 1919 and 1940 to 1947. A spokeswoman from English Heritage said it costs an average £965 per plaque and £120,000 would be saved each year for for the next two years.
The first blue plaque was erected in 1867 by the (Royal) Society of Arts. It commemorated the birthplace of Lord Byron in Holles Street, near Cavendish Square. The building was demolished in 1889. The earliest blue plaque to survive is that to Napoleon III at 1 King Street, St James’s; it too was put up in 1867.
Over the past 150 years 870 plaques across London have been dedicated in a project solely funded by the government.
“English Heritage states that; “We remain committed to the Blue Plaques scheme that has done so much to inspire Londoners and visitors with the history of the capital and its inhabitants.” In light of 2010 government cut backs, English Heritage prioritised its planning advice services, the maintenance and conservation of its properties, existing grant commitments and its Buildings at Risk programme.
“There has been a great deal of interest in the Blue Plaques Scheme in recent days and despite inaccurate reports, English Heritage remains committed to the Scheme and it will continue. However, our focus over the next two years will be to reduce a backlog of plaques that have already been agreed and to lay the foundations for a long-term future for the scheme that reduces the cost to the tax payer. For this reason, the scheme is being temporarily closed to new applications while we catch up with the backlog.
It has been agreed that the Scheme, which currently costs in excess of £250,000 a year, should become more cost effective and more self-sustaining. The Blue Plaques Team will be reduced from four to two people during 2013. They will continue to erect plaques from a list already agreed by our expert Blue Plaques Advisory Panel and we anticipate putting up a minimum of 12 plaques over the next two years.
English Heritage have told us that they are proud to run this much loved Scheme and, over the next eighteen months, they will work up the details of a new and more cost-effective approach to its administration. “We will announce the details in 2014.”