Tuesday 31 July 2007

New study shows increased public concern for heritage protection

A new study on the value that people in Ireland place on heritage, shows that the public are becoming increasingly concerned about the need to safeguard our heritage.

The vast majority of those surveyed agree that new measures and increased funding should be put in place, as they are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect of development on our national heritage.

The in-depth study is the largest of its kind to take place in Ireland and was carried out for the Heritage Council by Lansdowne Market Research in conjunction with Keith Simpson Associates and Optimize.

The study builds on previous surveys on public opinion carried out for the Heritage Council from 1999 to 2004. It shows a strong growth in people's attitudes and concern about safeguarding and protecting our heritage - with over 92% of those surveyed agreeing that it is important to protect our heritage, while 92% think that people should be penalised for damaging heritage (up from 51% in 1999).

Ninety per cent are proud of our heritage (up from 83% in 1999) and 85% agree that the Government should offer more incentives to protect heritage (up from 76% in 1999).

Personal health is a key motivation for people's desire to enhance the protection of heritage and the environment. However, this motivation is combined with a social awareness of significant threats to the environment and a concern for future generations.

The top reasons people have as to why heritage should be protected include -

* Personal health - 68% of people agree that protecting our natural heritage for walks, enjoyment and recreation is vital for health protection
* Threats to the environment - 65% agree that safeguarding water quality and biodiversity is vital for our environment
* Concern for future generations - 52%
* General interest in Ireland's history and culture - 47%
* General interest in Ireland's wildlife - 40%.

The study was carried out over the past year on representative samples of 1000 adults aged from 15-65 years. It includes an internationally-tested process to examine if growth in public support and awareness can be translated into a public willingness to pay for heritage protection. This part of the study found a general acceptance that heritage protection is everyone's responsibility and that public taxation should be a key source of funding its protection.

Additional public spending on heritage protection was supported by 68% of respondents to the survey. People's willingness to pay for this additional protection averages an extra €47 per taxpayer per annum - a figure that amounts to a total of €90 million in additional funding. Familiarity with heritage - obtained through recreation, site visits or general awareness - is growing and is a significant factor in people's support for heritage expenditure.

By encouraging interviewees to trade-off alternative priorities for additional heritage expenditure, the study revealed areas for which additional spending was most thought to be needed. Five main priorities were identified as -

* 29% Inland waterways - restoration of rivers, canals, lakes and associated facilities for amenity
* 22% Improving coastal landscapes and associated amenity
* 12.3% Protecting and improving habitats for wildlife
* 10% Improved heritage education programmes in schools
* 9% Rural Landscapes.

As part of the study, in-depth analysis was carried out on the value of protecting heritage. Concern about the impact of property development on heritage and the environment has increased significantly. The nature of development in rural communities was a great concern, with many respondents feeling that villages are losing their original character.

While 58% agree that protection should not interfere with necessary infrastructure (up from 53% in 2004), many agree that, as a nation, we have not always been very good at protecting our heritage. While heritage preservation may have been perceived as a low priority in the past, in today's affluent, confident Ireland, heritage protection engenders national and local pride.

It was agreed by almost all participants in the study, that progress and some change is inevitable and that heritage protection should not significantly impede the nation's progress - but that the pursuit of progress must respect the nation's heritage.

A key conclusion of the study was that there is a need to encourage a more comprehensive relationship between citizens and heritage that will allow the overall value placed on heritage to be realised in terms of benefits to health and well-being as well as to the economy and employment.

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