New legislation regulating the protection and use of Italys cultural heritage became law last month. The complex Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio, which has 184 articles, integrates and extends previous legislation concerning state cultural property. It also defines environmental assets as part of the national cultural heritage for the first time. However, the biggest novelty is the inclusion of regulations concerning the possible sale of state assets.

The states property portfolio is now effectively divided into two main categories. In the first are those assets that cannot be sold under any circumstances. They are regulated under article 54 of the new code and include archaeological sites, national monuments, museum collections, galleries and libraries and archives. In the second category are assets that may be sold, but only with the go-ahead from the competent state superintendent.

Under the terms of the new regulations the superintendents now have 120 days to issue a ruling; if they fail to do so the state can proceed with the sale. This is the new and controversial "silent assent" regulation that opens the way to the sale of parts of the national heritage by default.

The assessment of the first group of around 20 assets began in March, while the culture ministry reportedly intends to run 5,000 assets a year past the competent superintendents for evaluation over the next three years, or over 40 a month. At this rate sales of valuable assets may be approved solely because the superintendents office did not have the necessary time to evaluate the application.

The full text of the law is available on the culture ministry website www.beniculturali.it.