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Cover of British Archaeology 120

Issue 120

Sep / Oct 2011

Contents

news

All the latest archaeology news from around the country

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth plans for the future

letters

Your views and responses

features

THE BIG DIG: Roman roads

Digging up the Picts

Sacred waters

Manga at the museum – NOT ONLINE

7 societies

Stones and names

Win or lose

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

CBA Correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA

Last year new planning policy was introduced in England. Its benefits need defending, says Mike Heyworth.

In recent weeks there has been considerable focus on the way in which archaeology is embedded in the planning system, particularly in England. The issues are crucial. Most archaeologists now depend for their livelihood on archaeological work undertaken as a result of planning applications. Even nationally important archaeological sites may have no statutory protection: in such cases they rely on the planning system for protection.

So there was widespread concern when councillor Alan Melton, leader of Fenland district council, announced in a speech to local business leaders in late June that from July 1, his planning authority would cease to impose any archaeological conditions on developments. There was a rapid and unanimous response from every type of archaeologist, with significant activity on Facebook and other social media.

Times letter

Letter from The Times,
June 30

Local and national observers followed the story with growing interest. The Times published a letter signed by Kate Pretty (CBA president) and myself, and many leading academic archaeologists. I had the opportunity to appear live on BBC Radio 4's PM programme together with councillor Melton, and explain why his proposal would be illegal and would breach national planning regulations. Within days Melton rowed back on his earlier statements, acknowledging that his proposals were not viable and instead claiming that he had just hoped to start a debate.

It was no surprise that archaeologists were so concerned about Melton's speech. Perhaps his extreme proposals in the Fens signalled a national lessening of protection for archaeological heritage in new government planning policy, not least through the localism bill?

This bill, currently working its way through parliament, will have a very significant impact on the future English planning system. The CBA welcomes many of its provisions, which will allow communities to have a greater say over development impacting on the character of their area. But there need to be safeguards for any archaeological and heritage sites.

After much concern about the bill's first draft in relation to heritage protection, the government had been reassuring, and amendments had been introduced to see that under the new system there would be no lessening of current heritage protection. Future neighbourhood development plans would have to be in line with national planning policy, and recognise protected "heritage assets" such as listed buildings, conservation areas and scheduled ancient monuments.

However, the localism bill is itself dependent on a new national planning policy framework for England (NPPF), which brings together in a compressed form all current planning policy and regulation. This is particularly significant for archaeology, since Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (PPS5) – only introduced in March 2010 – is crucial for archaeology: it sets out the principles by which planning authorities require archaeological work to respect the significance of all heritage assets (not just those with statutory protection) in advance of development.

PPS5 was a significant distillation of the previous planning policy guidance notes, PPG15 and PPG16. Yet the proposed framework will reduce the text of PPS5 still further. Inevitably there is concern that in an even shorter document, some of the key principles of PPS5 will be lost. The heritage sector had generally welcomed PPS5 (see feature). The opportunities it provides are not always yet reflected in professional practice, but any weakening of its principles would be very damaging.

Thanks to the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG), archaeologists now have far better connections with both the government and parliamentarians, and also with officials in Whitehall. This has ensured that organisations like the CBA and The Archaeology Forum have been able to make their thoughts heard about the proposed planning framework. We have been encouraged by John Penrose MP, the tourism and heritage minister, who clearly understands the importance of the principles of PPS5. He has said he would not allow any lessening of protection in the NPPF. Meetings with John Howell MP, the architect of many of the government's planning reforms (and a one time archaeology student: see Spoilheap Jul/Aug 2010, no 113), were also welcome opportunities to ensure that no key provisions from PPS5 were lost in the new framework.

The localism bill has been debated in the House of Lords. This has allowed the chairman of APPAG, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, to raise concerns about the protection of archaeological evidence through the planning system. He also noted the importance of local authority historic environment services, who advise planning authorities about proposed development, drawing partly on local Historic Environment Records (HERs). With cutbacks in public funding the future of archaeology advisors in local government is uncertain. There are already indications of the pressures. The archaeology service in Merseyside has closed (although access to the HER has been restored), and that in South Yorkshire faced calls for a 50% budget cut (though after local and national pressure this has been reduced to 15% for now). Other local authorities have quietly opted out of their service, and are receiving no professional advice on archaeology.

The government was not sympathetic to Lord Renfrew's amendment, which would have required developers to consult the HER in advance of submitting any development proposal, and would have placed a statutory duty on local authorities to maintain or have access to an HER for this purpose. The government considered that this would have burdened developers. The case will be pressed again in future debates on the localism bill, as this is an attempt to protect the current system, not impose additional regulation.

The NPPF has now been published for consultation (see communities.gov.uk). It is clear that the representations made by the CBA and others have been largely heeded, but there are still concerns about tightening up some wording to ensure that heritage protection is maintained. It may prove that developers' responsibilities for archaeological work are reduced, or that local authority capacity to place appropriate conditions on planning applications is endangered. In either case, the CBA and others would then have no choice but to propose a large number of nationally important archaeological sites for scheduling, to ensure their statutory protection.

Meanwhile, in Scotland a new Planning Advice Note on Archaeology and Planning has recently been issued. It will be instructive to compare the new regulations, which should be very similar in approach and outcome to those in England. Furthermore, a heritage bill is now promised in Wales for 2014–15, presumably underpinned by new planning policies. Even with reduced resources, the CBA and our partners continue to keep a close eye on developments across the UK to act as the champion for the public interest in our archaeological heritage.

Mike Heyworth is the director of the CBA.

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