The Management of Change: Archaeology and Planning

By Wainright, G. J. | Antiquity, June 1993 | Go to article overview

The Management of Change: Archaeology and Planning

Wainright, G. J., Antiquity


For over a century there have been arrangements in England for the 'scheduling' (i.e. identification for protection) of ancient monuments. Central government consent is required for any works to Scheduled sites or monuments. Essentially sites and monuments have to be of national archaeological significance to merit scheduling; non-statutory criteria have been defined for that purpose and over 13,000 have so far been scheduled. These represent only a small proportion of known archaeological sites, the total of which in England is currently put at over 600,000. English Heritage are currently engaged on a comprehensive survey programme, known as the Monuments Protection Programme, which is expected to result in a significant increase in the numbers of monuments qualifying for scheduling, perhaps raising the total to some 60,000 by the end of the decade.

Archaeology and planning

In addition to statutory designation, archaeological sites, whether scheduled or not, are a material consideration in the planning process. The UK Government has recently reviewed arrangements for the protection of archaeological sites and monuments in England. The outcome was a new and comprehensive statement of policy, Archaeology and planning, published in November 1990 as Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 (PPG 16). Similar documents have been issued for Wales and are proposed for Scotland. The statement is prepared for the guidance of local

authorities, developers and archaeologists and is particularly concerned with the need to ensure that local planning authorities give due recognition to the importance of archaeological remains when considering proposals for new development. It therefore provides a policy framework within which local authorities may exercise their powers and also within which the Secretary of State for the Environment will consider cases of national importance which come to him for decision and other cases which come to him on appeal.

PPG 16 makes it clear that there should be a presumption in favour of the preservation of nationally important remains but also stresses that the desirability of preserving ancient monuments is a material consideration which the planning system must take into account and weigh against other considerations, in deciding proposals for new development. This effectively means that those monuments which are not scheduled will depend for their protection on the operation of the English planning system. The role of the local authorities is two-fold:

the assessment of the implications for any archaeological site when development proposals are put forward by prospective developers;

in the preparation of development plans which should identify nationally important monuments and include general policies for the protection of other monuments.

The central message of PPG 16 is the crucial importance of early assessment of a site's archaeological significance and of early discussions between the local authority, archaeologists and developers. When such assessment indicates the likely presence of important archaeological remains, the planning authority may require the developer to commission a field evaluation of the site before reaching its decision on new development proposals. This evaluation will generally be carried out at the developer's expense.

Once the facts have been established it is normally for the local planning authority to decide whether development may proceed and a number of options are available:

in the most important cases, permission for development may need to be refused if an archaeological site is to be adequately protected;

in other cases modification of the development proposal may be necessary so as to cause minimal disturbance to the archaeological remains;

the excavation of the site before it is destroyed by development should be the least preferred option but where it is the right solution, it will normally be for the developer to make provision for the excavation, the archiving of the data and the publication of the results. …

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