It has recently been reported that, as part of a wide range of cuts to services, Lancashire County Council have tabled plans to cut their heritage services, including provision of an historic environment record (HER), and curatorial input into planning applications.
The requirement for archaeological assessment, survey, excavation and protection is a statutory requirement, set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which follows broadly the principles set out in the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (The Valetta Treaty), and to which the UK is a signatory. The need for a Local Planning Authority to maintain and have access to a functioning HER as part of this process is clearly set out in the NPPF (para. 169). LCC’s current proposals effectively indicate that they intend to proceed with a planning system which employs the selective and subjective imposition of national principles and policies. This would leave the authority open to numerous challenges, ranging from grounds of non-compliance with national policy, to having the validity of individual application decisions queried and overturned.
This could also affect later stages of the development process. The NPPF and its predecessors have been relatively effective at identifying archaeological risk at an early stage, allowing effective mitigation through fieldwork or design iteration. The removal of archaeological input from the early stages of the planning process leaves developers open to the potential to discover extensive and important archaeological remains at a much later stage, i.e. during construction, leading to costly delays.
Strong letters of objection have been lodged from a number of organisations including the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), and we at Armour Heritage would like to add our protest and would urge our colleagues in the profession to do the same.
On a related subject, Armour Heritage’s offices were recently visited by our local representative, David Warburton MP, at our invitation. We discussed a number of matters, foremost amongst them the changes to the Feed-In Tariff Scheme (FITS) for the renewable energy sector and support for heritage and archaeology in parliament. Whilst we felt the meeting ended on a positive note, issues like that currently emerging in Lancashire emphasise the point that archaeology and heritage are considered of relatively low importance, at least at local government level, and we fear that cuts to services in other authorities may follow a similar path.
The role of companies like AH in the planning system is an important one, both in terms of the appropriate assessment, recording and protection of our nation’s heritage, and in the contribution small businesses make to the UK economy. On either front, a watering down of the value and significance of heritage and archaeology at local government level can only ultimately be detrimental to us all.