Buildings Archaeology Casework

How we work to Safeguard Listed Buildings and Archaeology

Our work

The CBA campaign for archaeology above and below ground.  We are one of the seven National Amenity Societies with a formal role within the planning system. Local planning authorities in England and Wales are required to notify us on Listed Building Consent (LBC) planning applications that involve any loss of historic building fabric.

We are able to choose which LBC applications we comment on and when to provide specialist advice. This role means we are able to intervene and offer advice to make sure that important traces of our shared history are not lost among the inevitable and ongoing process of change in the world around us.

We also comment on planning applications where there is likely to be an impact on buried archaeology. Only a small proportion of buried archaeology is protected by designation and much remains undisturbed and undiscovered.

When planning proposals appear likely to impact upon designated or undesignated archaeology, we can voice the need for appropriate assessment and evaluation.



This is Archaeology: What is an ‘archaeological approach’ to the built environment?

‘Archaeology’ is not just stuff buried in the ground but the process of looking at evidence from the past to work things out about how people used to live from the traces they left behind. Our built environment is full of traces of how people lived in the past. This is often referred to as the ‘evidential value’ or ‘archaeological interest’ of a place. When CBA caseworkers assess LBC and planning applications for change that will impact the historic environment we are particularly concerned about potential impacts on these traces of past activity - a place’s archaeological interest, or evidential value. We assess sites for the ways buildings demonstrate how people have outwardly expressed what they consider to be important, as well as what buildings reveal about how people lived & used sites.

The planning casework database: You can see what we do...

All of the work we do around safeguarding the historic environment can be easily accessed online. Every letter we write is uploaded to the casework database. Every LBC and planning application that we are consulted on across England and Wales is logged on this database, along with details about the application site. You can follow links to the local authority’s web pages to see details of the planning proposals. There are links to Historic England and Cadw’s information about the designated sites affected by proposals. There are also links to the responses that we have submitted, as well as those written by the other national amenity societies.

We operate our casework database on behalf of the 7 National Amenity Societies who we work alongside. We each have different (though overlapping) priorities for comment. The CBA differs from the others by taking an archaeological approach to buildings and sites.

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Our priorities for comment

We assess over 5,500 applications for planning and listed building consent every year. They range across all building types of all ages and all grades of designation. We look at proposals that range from internal reconfigurations and extensions to the demolition of buildings. We choose to focus on certain applications to comment on based on these priorities.

As an idea of how these priorities turn into our involvement with the planning process, here are some examples of our work with links to the application details and our formal responses on our casework database.

Impacts on evidential value/archaeological interest

Some listed buildings have higher evidential value (or archaeological interest) than others. Multi-phased buildings often illustrate how a place has evolved over time through adaptations made to buildings in response to advances in technologies and shifts in societal attitudes. We offer advice on how changes to buildings can be done in a way that minimises any harmful impacts on this evidential value. When LBC applications are based on an understanding of what makes the building special, and how we can see its historical uses and development, it is possible to formulate plans for alterations that maintain those significant parts whilst adapting it for contemporary wants and needs.

We saw a great example of this in the reuse of an outhouse in Cornwall.

One of the most impressive examples of how buildings can document the development of a place along with its social and cultural backdrop was at Low Whita (Bells) Farm in the Yorkshire Dales. The CBA were delighted to be part of securing 2 Grade II* Listings for this previously undesignated site.

In Radnorshire, Wales we championed the case for retention of a former pigsty and its reuse as a garden outbuilding, recognising the evidential value of small vernacular agricultural buildings. This not only would have retained the evidential value but also provided savings on embodied carbon (see below). Unfortunately, the building was demolished prior to the application being submitted. We succeeded in gaining the support of the Local Authority and wrote it up as an article for the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC) Context magazine

Lots of LBC applications are for the adaptive reuse of buildings like factories, barns or chapels that have become redundant in their original function. It is important to find new uses for redundant buildings. Otherwise, they are not looked after and will soon be lost altogether. Taking an archaeological approach to these buildings helps identify the aspects of a site that demonstrate how its form and original function are related to each other. We can then ensure changes don’t erode a site’s historic character or remove our ability to understand their past uses. Proposals for the reuse of an industrial site in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter show what a fine balance adaptive reuse can be as well as what is possible with a bit of imagination.

As well as built archaeology we do also consider potential impacts on buried archaeology. We flagged up the likelihood that proposals to build a new house within the curtilage of a house on the outskirts of St Albans could impact on significant undesignated Roman archaeology. This had not been considered within the application documents. However, due to the site’s location on an important road that entered Roman Verulamium, we advised that archaeological evaluation would be essential. Find the details here.

We were also concerned regarding the impact on buried archaeology due to the proposed installation of a new access ramp at St Mary’s Church, Chepstow, Wales. We considered that there was a high potential for archaeological assets in this area including possible Norman fabric relating to the earliest stage of the church and the priory. Supported by the Archaeological Trust, we gained a full planning condition for a watching brief during works.

Communal value / public participation

Some buildings make a strong contribution to a local sense of place. They might be local landmarks, related to local industries or a building type that lots of people in a community have a relationship with like schools, libraries and pubs. We speak up for the way that local people value these sites and opportunities for this value to be embraced and developed as part of local identity. We provided this type of advice to a series of applications for the reuse of Lowestoft Post Office.

Developing sites with high buried archaeological potential can offer great possibilities for public participation. The buried archaeology of places is a really interesting aspect of local history and contributes to local identity and a sense of place. Creating opportunities for people to get hands on with archaeology is something we champion within the planning process. An example of this type of application is the development of this site in Kent.

 And this forestry site in the Rhondda Valley, Wales.

Reusing historic buildings for their embodied carbon

Old buildings don’t only contribute to the history of a place and its character, they also contain a lot of embodied carbon in their building materials. As a society we are all increasingly aware that we need to change our habits across the board to tackle climate change. The CBA believe one important way this should be done is through preferentially adapting and reusing old buildings instead of demolishing and building new. Compelling research into the embodied carbon in pre-1919 building stock, commissioned by Historic England, shows how important not wasting the embodied carbon in standing buildings is if the UK is to reach its legally binding commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. Recent Historic England research has found that “Compared to refurbishing a traditional Victorian terrace, a new building of the same size produces up to thirteen times more embodied carbon. We provided this type of advice in response to the redevelopment of an area in central Darlington, which you can read here.


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Let’s work together


We know there is lots going on out there which we might not hear about through formal channels. If you are concerned about something in your local area, that we should be concerned about too then get in touch. You can email us via [email protected]

We were delighted to be able to work with the Trefonen Rural Action Group in Shropshire. They contacted the CBA about locally felt concerns regarding the impact a proposed housing development would have on a stretch of Offa’s Dyke near their village. We added our voice to theirs in expressing the importance of conserving an important landmark and its contribution to the local area. You can find out about this application here.

Further information, useful links and where to go next

If you would like to know more about how to successfully manage change to the historic environment there is lots of information out there.

These documents could help you develop your own proposals or to stand up for the heritage that matters to you.

Identifying what makes a place special

  • The first step in protecting a place is identifying what makes it special. Historic England’s ‘Conservation Principles’ provides great guidance on how to do this.
  • If you are looking to put proposals together for changes to an old building then Cadw’s guidance ‘Heritage Impact Assessment in Wales’ provides a well structured staged approach to minimising any harm to the site that could come about through changing it. 

Guidance on best practice in looking after heritage

Where you can research the history of a place

If you want to research a listed building in England or Wales then you can search for it online.

Historic Environment Records (HERs) are maintained by local authorities to record information from a variety of sources about geographical locations. You can search for your local HER online to see what information already exists about a place you are interested in.

  • In Wales you can search for HER information through Archwilio or through Coflein – the national records database.
  • The People’s Collection Wales website is a fascinating collection of photographs, documents, audio and video recordings and stories that link to the history, culture and people of Wales.
  • Historic England have an archive of photographs and records which you can search online.
  • Your local library and archives service may be able to help provide you with local census data, historic maps, and other relevant information about local history.
  • Old Maps allows you to search for historic map details of places in Britain.
  • The National Archives online search will help you to find historic records.
  • Some buildings may feature in the Royal Institute of British Architect’s archive collections – find out more on their website.
  • The Victoria County History has been collecting and researching histories of English counties since 1899. You can find the histories online or there is a phone app where you can explore records and find out what’s nearby as you travel.
  • If you’re interested in historical research into a specific topic or area, the Institute for Historical Research has put together a list of online freely accessible archives, papers and resources to explore.
  • Vision of Britain have a digital resource which lets you explore maps and statistics in different formats.

Planning legislation

Planning decisions are made against the criteria that is set out in planning legislation and policy. This is different for each of the home nations.


Community involvement in planning

Communities are increasingly being encouraged to have their say about changes in their local area. This might be through formulating local lists or by being consulted on specific plans. If this is something you are interested in getting involved with then check out your local authority's planning pages on their website to see what is already happening in your area.

Developing local lists is a way for communities to identify the places that contribute to local character: