ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 54, August 2000


Campaigns and reports from the CBA

Progress on portable antiquities

April's British Archaeology reported on the decision by the Government not to ratify two international conventions designed to combat the trade in illicitly obtained antiquities (writes Alex Hunt, CBA Conservation Officer). This is a trade which promotes the looting of archaeological sites worldwide.

Following continued pressure from the archaeological and museums community including the CBA, and in particular pointed questioning of the Government in the House of Lords by archaeologist Colin Renfrew (Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn), Alan Howarth, Minister for the Arts, announced in May that he had set up an advisory panel to reconsider the matter. The panel's remit is to consider the nature and extent of the illicit international trade in art and antiquities, and the extent to which the UK is involved. The panel will also consider how the UK can most effectively help to prevent and prohibit the illicit trade through both non-legislative and legislative means.

The panel is chaired by Norman Palmer, Professor of Law at University College London, and members include Lord Renfrew and Peter Addyman, Director of the York Archaeological Trust, all of whom are members of the CBA's Portable Antiquities Working Group. The panel has been asked to advise the Government by November.

Further progress came in June, when the Museums Association and the International Council for Museums published Stealing History: The Illicit Trade in Antiquities, a report from Cambridge University (see Issues). The report documents in detail the international scale and extent of looting, is particularly illuminating on the role played by UK commercial organisations in the illicit trade.

Also imminent is the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report, Portable Antiquities: Return and Illicit Trade. With continuing pressure, we hope that the Government will see sense by enacting legislation which ensures that the UK no longer remains complicit in this destructive trade.

CBA action on listed buildings

In the first half of this year the CBA received, for its comments, 2,385 applications for consent to alter or demolish listed buildings. We made site visits to 118 and wrote 227 letters.

One interesting case is the proposed demolition of the Grade II* Baltic Exchange building in the City of London which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992. Last month, the City's planning committee approved its replacement by a controversial cigar-shaped skyscraper designed by Sir Norman Foster.

The CBA, and other conservation groups including the Victorian Society, have urged the Government to call the case in for public inquiry. The CBA is not against good new design, but objected to the proposal because the quality of a new building is not in itself sufficient justification under PPG15 for demolishing a listed building - particularly one that, as in this case, has been shown to be still capable of restoration.

History in the environment

The CBA has given its views to an inquiry into environmental planning by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (Alex Hunt writes).

The CBA recorded its dismay at the increasing number of environmental planning policies and procedures that are published with `sustainable development' and `environmental protection' in mind, but which overlook conservation of the historic environment. In particular:

The CBA attributed these failures to an overall lack of joined-up thinking in Government, which derives from the artificial division of `environmental' and `cultural' remits between different departments. The CBA recommended that the inter-connectedness of different aspects of the environment (in particular links between the historic environment, ecology and landscape on the one hand, and pollution, global warming, coastal issues, agriculture and development on the other) needed to be more fully recognised. In particular, we recommended that the mandates and procedures of the statutory pollution bodies, such as the Environment Agency, needed to be greatly strengthened in regard to protection of the historic environment.

The CBA noted that the overall goal of achieving sound environmental planning was hampered by continuing budget cuts of the various national heritage agencies, and by the long-term under-resourcing, and lack of statutory status, for local authority archaeological conservation advice services.

The Royal Commission study is due for publication in January.

New CBA books

A new practical handbook, Recording and Analysing Graveyards by Harold Mytum, has been published at £9.50. The book aims to help everyone appreciate graveyards, cemeteries and their monuments, but it is also intended to inspire new recording projects and provides a comprehensive guide to how to set a new project up.

Later this month, we will publish Medieval glass vessels found in England c AD1200-1500 by Rachel Tyson, at a special offer price of £24 (normally £28). This volume collates material relating to about 1,350 vessels from over 200 sites, and considers how changes in the style and use of glass can help us understand everyday life and society in medieval England.

For further information on either publication contact Kate Sleight at

Compiled by Simon Denison

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