You are here

Heritage Conservation Reform

On 20 February 2019, the Riigikogu passed the new Heritage Conservation Act. The new legislation balances the rights and obligations of the state with those of the owners of cultural monuments, creating for the first time a compensation system for monument owners. From now on, the activities of the National Heritage Board will include both heritage conservation and museum fields. The legislation comes into force as of 1 May 2019.


In 2013, the Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with representatives from the field of heritage conservation, started to draft an amendment to the Heritage Conservation Act. This involved the comprehensive inclusion of stakeholders in the preparation of the draft, which was forwarded to the government for a financing decision. During the negotiations regarding the strategy for the state budget in the spring of 2017, the government agreed to additionally finance the implementation of the heritage conservation reform with a sum of €1.4 million annually starting in 2019. This amount will be paid out as direct grants to owners that wish to renovate heritage properties. Within the framework of a general salary increase for cultural workers, the Ministry of Culture received additional funding in September 2017 for developing higher quality public services, for organisational restructuring of the National Heritage Board, and for raising employees' salaries. The government approved the draft of the new Heritage Conservation Act and will send it to the Riigikogu for further discussion and decision-making. 

Why is the Heritage Conservation Reform necessary?

The protection of cultural objects is a constitutional task. Cultural heritage is an important part of Estonian history and it acts as a source of identity for each individual as well as the state as a whole. The main shortcoming of the heritage conservation field is that there is a considerable discrepancy in the extent of obligations of the owners of heritage objects, who are responsible of conserving the cultural objects that are in the public interest, and the obligations of the state in ensuring the conservation of monuments. The current compensation system is also in need of restructuring. The current situation creates feelings of injustice in owners and puts the conservation of heritage in danger. The state wishes to help the owners of monuments and support their activities as a devoted cooperation partner in the field of conservation and organising heritage objects that are under heritage protection. The role of the Heritage Conservation Board will increase as a result of this reform in terms of consultations and inclusion of owners.
The best way to conserve heritage is to grow it and provide regular maintenance; this is also an economically sound practice. Regularly maintained and well-kept cultural objects create an improved and more attractive living environment, which in turn helps to increase general quality of life, creates jobs, stimulates the economy and increases the state’s competitiveness.


How does the Heritage Conservation Reform affect the economy?

Cultural value sites and objects that are used and in good condition improve the competitiveness of the state. Based on the statistical data of the European Union, heritage contributes a lot to economy. Renovating and maintaining buildings constituted for 27.5 % of the value of the European construction industry in 2013.
Cultural heritage has spillover effects in other economic sectors. For example, the estimated contribution of tourism in the EU's domestic total production is 415 billion euros and 3.4 million tourism enterprises provide jobs for 15.2 million people, among whom many are directly or indirectly connected to cultural heritage. 27 % of EU travellers claim that the cultural heritage is the main factor for choosing a travel destination.
Estonian experiences show that improving the state of cultural heritage stimulates regional economy as well. For example, in addition to an educational function, manor schools also fill the function of a community centre and are often tourism destinations. According to preliminary assessment, the implementation of the Haapsalu Episcopal Castle development project would create jobs for 130 people in the region (incl. tourism enterprises, accommodation, catering etc.).


What changes will the change in the law bring about?

  • The state will start to turn even greater attention to consultation and prevention activities. The competence of heritage conservation inspectors will be focused on consulting and the Board will help owners become knowledgeable clients.
  • The state will start to compensate monument owners for costs that exceed those incurring in ordinary restoration jobs – research and heritage protection supervision. €1.4 million will be allocated for this annually. 
  • More flexibility will be introduced into restoration and construction activities. The special conditions of heritage conservation, which are currently commissioned by the owners of monuments, will hereafter be provided by the Board based on research studies. The determination of what is allowed and not allowed will be decided on the basis of the specificity of each monument. The owner will still be responsible for conducting the research, but the cost will be partially reimbursed.
  • The work of the National Heritage Board will be reorganised. In the future, the Board will jointly coordinate the fields of heritage conservation and museums and be the competence centre in the field of cultural heritage. In addition to cultural monuments, the reorganised Board will also deal with museums and their collections.
  • The state’s cultural heritage policy will be consolidated. This means that, based on the law, the part of the heritage that can be conserved as monuments and museum objects must be well cared for, meaningful and as accessible as possible.  
  • Matters related to archaeological finds will be regulated more strictly than before, in order to prevent looting and illegal trading with culturally valuable objects. In order to protect discovery sites, the protection of archaeological discovery sites will be added to the protection of archaeological monuments. A research obligation and ban on searching will be implemented at discovery sites. 

Who is the target group?

As a result of the reform, the state will become more active as a devoted partner who gets owners involved concerning ca 135,000 owners of objects under heritage protection (incl. natural and legal persons). In addition to owners, the change will affect entrepreneurs and licenced specialists, the Heritage Conservation Board and museums among state authorities. Cultural heritage affects all foreign tourists and inhabitants of Estonia indirectly.


What will the implementation of the reform cost?

The Ministry of Culture applied for an addition €2 million from the state budget for the implementation of the draft legislation. During the negotiations regarding the strategy for the state budget in the spring of 2017, the government allocated €1.4 million annually for the implementation of the Heritage Conservation Reform, which will be paid out as direct grants to the owners that wish to renovate heritage properties. The remainder of the financing will be allocated to the development of better quality public services, organisational reorganisation and employees’ salaries. We hope to find the funds to cover these costs in the course of the negotiations regarding the salary increases for employees in the cultural field.


Documents related to the draft amendment


The draft is related to the Action Plan of the Government of the Republic for 2016-2019, in which clause 5, which is related to the field of culture, calls for the organisation of heritage conservation to be reformed.

The updating of the legislation in the field is also mentioned in the Principles of Cultural Policy until 2020, which was approved by the Riigikogu on 12 February 2014 (p. 22 Heritage Conservation).


More information:
Liina Jänes
Adviser (Cultural Heritage)


Last updated: 14 May 2019