Breaks with the Past

Article excerpt

Challenging questions about the effectiveness of measures now adopted nationally to protect archaeological features in ancient landscapes have been raised by plans to build an [pound]80 million holiday village on a 436-acre woodland site in a designated area of natural beauty on the Kent Downs near Folkestone.

The Rank Holidays and Hotels Developments' proposal for a village, restaurants, shops and subtropical world overlooking a newly-created 20-acre lake at West Wood, Lyminge, has been the subject of a two month-long planning inquiry. The projected all-the-year-round centre, catering for an average of 3,500 holidaymakers at any one time, would be based in just over 300 of the 436 acreage available -- with 100 acres of the wood remaining open to the public around the perimeter.

Rank have estimated that its 'oasis village' would bring benefits of some [pound]15 million a year to the local economy. The 'scheme will create 1,000 local jobs', reported the press at the start of the inquiry in April.

But the environmental stakes are also high. The scheme has provoked powerful opposition locally, with the Countryside Commission also arguing that the site is the wrong place for a holiday village. Such tranquil areas of countryside are precious, says the Commission, and increasingly rare in the South East.

West Wood, part of what is known as the Lyminge Forest, also offers tangible evidence of many past generations - a degree of continuity reflected by the known presence of six ancient burial mounds or bowl barrows. Scheduled monuments, they will be unaffected by the development.

Set in a picturesque downland location just a few miles north of the great Channel Tunnel terminal, the site is flanked on the west by the unmistakably straight alignment of Stone Street (the present B.2068), the road that linked Roman Canterbury to the fort at Lympne. And beneath the woodland undergrowth is strong evidence of prehistoric burial and settlement features or worked land dating back deep into the prehistoric past.

It seems that the natural wild wood was cleared from the prehistoric period onwards and maintained as farmland and grazed downland. There is no real evidence of woodland until the seventeenth century.

A survey conducted for the developers in accordance with the planning provisions has revealed a promising range of multi period features: Neolithic, Belgic/early Roman -- and medieval pottery dating to 1150-1350. The finds included worked flint flakes and coarsely gritted pottery, the trial trenching also revealed five charcoal pits. The fresh nature of some of the pottery remains suggests that the site has remained virtually undisturbed for at least the last 2,000 years.

The site evaluation by a team of archaeologists from Liverpool University -- work monitored by the Kent County Council Archaeological Department -- resulted in a doubling of the number of known field monuments.

The evaluation process -- 2 per cent of the site -- is designed to discover whether archaeology exists at a site, assess its quality and determine what, if any, further work is necessary. However, no specific figures are laid down in the Government's planning guidance provisions (PPG 16) that have now brought archaeology firmly into local authority deliberations. …

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