|ISSN 1357-4442||Editor: Simon Denison|
This year's Budget affected the historic environment in a number of ways (George Lambrick writes). Firstly, new gift aid provisions have made it easier for people to make tax-efficient contributions to charities such as the CBA (and many of its member organisations) and for charities to reclaim the tax. The new provisions cover subscriptions, donations (including share transfers) and workplace schemes. Existing covenants will run their course and can then be replaced by the new arrangements.
Secondly, a new `green tax' is to be levied on primary aggregates to encourage greater use of recycled materials. By increasing the cost of mineral extraction this may encourage operators to avoid areas where archaeological costs will add to their burden. However, most operators already have substantial landbanks, and the new tax may only make them less willing to meet the full cost of archaeological mitigation - a point for vigilance by County Archaeologists. The proceeds of the tax are to be spent on environmental benefits, and the CBA is now looking at how this might include archaeology.
Unfortunately, the Budget failed to rationalise the VAT payable on building work, despite concerted lobbying by conservation bodies. Currently the building of new homes is zero-rated while owners have to pay 17.5 per cent for repair and renovation. A lower rate applied equally would reduce the cost of maintenance and refurbishment, with significant benefits to historic buildings. Although so far there has been no progress, Ministers have stressed that the issue is still on their agenda.
The CBA has commented on a number of government proposals affecting the historic environment Firstly, it welcomed a new Defence Estates land management strategy as the most enlightened yet produced by any government department. The CBA urges other major public-sector landowners - such as the Health Service - to undertake historic environment audits and produce conservation strategies for their own estates.
The recommendations of the Common Land Forum, issued in 1986 but never enacted, are again being considered by Government. The CBA supported the proposals, including an end to deregistration of commons and the maintenance of regulations controlling development.
The CBA expressed concern at a new scheme for encouraging `energy crops' such as short-rotation coppicing on lowland pasture. The proposal could lead to extensive damage to remains now protected under grass.
As the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill proceeds through Parliament, the CBA has voiced its dismay over the bill's failure to exempt landowners from responsibility to members of the public as a result of the presence of archaeological or historic features on their land. This could lead to the destruction of sites - such as earthworks, derelict historic buildings or abandoned industrial workings.
The Archaeology Data Service, managed by a consortium that includes the CBA, has opened its Digital Library. So far, the CBA has provided most of the material including over 20 volumes of CBA Research Reports. These include The Iron Age in the Irish Sea Province edited by Charles Thomas, Excavations at St Mary's Church Deerhurst by Philip Rahtz, and Burial in the Roman World edited by Richard Reece. In addition a number of CBA Occasional Papers are now online.
The ADS library also includes a comprehensive index to archaeological electronic journals, publications about NERC's Ancient Biomolecules Initiative and the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography. The library can be visited at ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue
A number of searchable databases of scientifically-derived dates for archaeological contexts are now available online through the Archaeology Data Service, part-funded by the CBA. They include a database of late Mesolithic/early Neolithic radiocarbon dates across Europe, compiled by Stephen Shennan and James Steele of Southampton University, and an index of dendrochronology dates for over 800 buildings in Britain compiled by the Vernacular Architecture Group. The
CBA's Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland is also available. These resources can be found by selecting the `special collections' option of ArchSearch at ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue
In addition, the CBA now has its own email server, following a grant from the British Academy to upgrade its computing network. All members of staff now have their own email address in the form firstname.lastname@example.org
This year's National Archaeology Days, organised by the CBA and the Young Archaeologists' Club, will take place on 22 - 23 July. About 140 sites are expected to take part. These include Hadrian's Wall, where a guided walk will start from Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, and Whitby Abbey, where visitors will be able to observe this season's excavation and assist with pot washing and sorting.
The Palaeolithic site of Cresswell Crags in Nottinghamshire is offering a tour of the caves with demonstrations of prehistoric crafts, while a `weekend of archaeological activities' is promised at the Tower of London. English Heritage is staging a mock excavation at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth, where visitors can learn about surveying, geophysics and other techniques.
A full list of sites taking part will be available on the CBA's website (www.britarch.ac.uk) from the beginning of June. A number of sites in Scotland will be opened during a separate `Scottish Archaeology Month' in September.
The Government has asked English Heritage to carry out the most comprehensive review of policy towards the historic environment ever undertaken. The CBA is closely involved. The issues are being examined by five working groups, following a first consultation for which the CBA made a detailed submission. A second consultation on discussion papers prepared by the working groups will take place in June, and a report will go to Ministers at the end of September.
The CBA is keen to receive comments from members and readers of British Archaeology, which should be sent directly to the Director, George Lambrick (email@example.com). Details can be found on the CBA's website (www.britarch.ac.uk/info/ehreview.html) or from English Heritage on 01793 414910.
Compiled by Simon Denison
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© Council for British Archaeology, 2000