A recent statement from HLF said it would "explore whether there are models that would allow limited funding of capital and conservation work to privately owned heritage ... where the benefits from tourism ... outweigh any private gain".
Speaking at the HHA's Historic Buildings, Parks & Gardens event in London this week, tourism minister John Penrose said eight out of 10 tourists came to the UK for its cultural and heritage attractions, generating £4.3bn a year. The London 2012 Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee presented more opportunities.
Penrose stressed that the National Planning Policy Framework would mean no reduction in protection of heritage, which would remain at the PPS5 level, and that the 'mansion tax' proposed by the Liberal Democrats "was not being actively pushed across my desk". He pledged to cut red tape for live entertainment and brown tourist signs.
Harley said privately owned heritage houses were more innovative than other visitor attractions, citing Longleat's ice rink, Eastnor Castle's mud-running events and Dalemain's dog-blessing ceremonies.
He added that the TV series Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle, was part of a broadcast boom for members, with the 72 houses currently being used for 130 TV productions charging up to £4,500 a day in fees.
English Heritage figures showed the annual 17.3 million visits to historic houses were the most for a single sector, but Harley warned that the repair backlog had risen 50 per cent in six years to £390m.