In May 1998, I and my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, announced a comprehensive package of legislative, financial and administrative measures for the protection of the architectural heritage. The legislative measures include a new Planning Bill, to be brought forward by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, which will give comprehensive protection to buildings and structures of architectural, artistic and historic importance, and a Bill to place the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, which is currently being carried out by Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department, on a statutory basis. The latter Bill is currently being finalised and I expect to be able to publish it shortly.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage is a key component of the overall framework for the protection of the architectural heritage, as identification and recording of that heritage is an essential prerequisite for protection. The inventory will now have an accelerated programme of work, including an immediate interim survey of buildings, to allow it to effectively form the database for the proposed new listed buildings system. I have set a target of 12 years for completion of the inventory. In advance of the completion of the inventory, it is not possible to quantify the total number of buildings, including houses, and structures of architectural, artistic and historic importance.
The package of protection measures also includes the establishment of a new grantaid scheme for approved conservation works to protected (listed) buildings. This scheme will commence in 1999, will be administered by local authorities, will have funding of approximately £4 million per annum, and will be operated in accordance with national criteria and standards to be drawn up by an advisory group made up of representatives of my own Department, the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Heritage Council.