Three Steps to Protect Our Heritage

I am incredibly proud to be the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip – somewhere I have lived all my life. It is a place that is dynamic and multicultural, whilst rooted in its traditions of entrepreneurship and community.

Nowhere is this more evident than our heritage sector.

Whether it’s RAF Northolt’s Second World War scramble hut, sitting watch over an active and modern airfield, or the centuries-old Crown and Treaty pub, still playing host to countless patrons, from old-time regulars to working professionals and visitors alike.

It is this contrast between the old and the new – not at odds with each other but rather one complementing the other – that I wanted to concentrate on in my recent Westminster Hall Debate, along with the need to ensure we preserve our important heritage assets. To do this, it is important to understand the process protecting heritage assets. For me, there are three stages: identification, protection, and capitalisation.

Identification is – I believe – the most important step, because without being able to find and know where those assets are, we stand no chance of protecting them.

It is why Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register is so important. Compiled yearly, the Register offers a snapshot of the current situation for the country’s historic fabric. It can make troubling reading. Indeed, the latest edition details 599 entries in London.

Despite this, there are glimmers of good news, too. The 2023 edition acknowledges that 203 assets were removed for positive reasons – including 41 across London.

The Register thus plays a vital role ensuring heritage assets in need of assistance are not forgotten about or obscured. However, there are two counterpoints to this.

Firstly, the Register is only as strong as its contents. Despite the work of Historic England, we run the risk of sites going unnoticed – known only to local, niche knowledge, which are lost when that local knowledge is lost. The other limitation is institutional support. As I stressed in the debate, this does not necessarily just mean money, but support and signposting from government, organisations, and charities. The lack of this support risks severely undercutting any effectiveness within the subsequent heritage process.

Once we have hopefully identified the asset at risk, and secured the appropriate support, it’s then probably the most obvious step – protection. Uxbridge and South Ruislip has a rich aviation history. It was at RAF Northolt, which predates the RAF itself, that the RAF first took ownership of the Hawker Hurricane.

The base figured greatly in the Battle of Britain, serving as home to the No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. The Squadron was made up of Polish pilots, withdrawn from Poland after the 1939 invasion and later Fall of France. During the Battle, they would go onto shoot down the most enemy aircraft out of all the squadrons.

They, alongside Northolt’s other squadrons, demonstrated great skill and bravery, and the buildings still standing from that time, including the scramble hut, evoke the memory of those men and women who used them. It is why the airfield authorities are worried about the state the hut is in and want to protect it. So, it can continue to tell the story of the fabled Few – and why I was grateful for when the Minister agreed to meet with myself and other parties to look at what can be done to save it.

When talking about preserving heritage assets, it would seem obvious that the final step should be protection, but it is not.
‘Protection’ is not a one-time action. It is constant. Heritage needs to be capitalised upon – and nowhere can successes like this be seen than at the Battle of Britain Bunker; one of the most popular visitor attractions in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

The Bunker, centre of operations for No. 11 Group Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, remained closed for several years during the post-war years, until more and more of it was opened and run by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. The local community was thrilled when the Government pledged £1 million to restore the bunker in 2015. Alongside this pledge was a multi-million-pound grant from Hillingdon Council to establish and build a visitor centre, capitalising on its growing successes as a visitor attraction and heritage site.

Whilst Uxbridge and South Ruislip’s rich heritage crosses over several time periods, our aviation heritage and its achievements demonstrate, I believe, the potential for success across not just my area but the country; protecting heritage assets and the stories woven into their fabric for future generations to come.

Steve Tuckwell MP

Steve Tuckwell is the Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and elected in 2023.