A digitally created map showing the archaeological features of Pamington, Gloucestershire
Pamington, Gloucestershire – a new Iron Age and Roman settlement identified by geophysical survey evaluation. Archaeological features are shown red on the survey plot © Archaeological Surveys Ltd
Pamington, Gloucestershire – a new Iron Age and Roman settlement identified by geophysical survey evaluation. Archaeological features are shown red on the survey plot © Archaeological Surveys Ltd

Archaeology and Planning Case Studies: Planning Policy and Professional Practice in England

By Jan Wills and Stewart Bryant, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

The Archaeology and Planning Case Studies Project

It is almost 30 years since the publication of the first government planning policy guidance covering archaeology in 1990. Planning Policy Guidance 16 (PPG16) and its successor planning policies (Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)) have established an effective framework for the assessment of the impact of proposed development on heritage assets with archaeological and historic interest, and the mitigation or off-setting of that impact. However, recent changes in the planning system have raised concerns in the heritage sector because of their potential to reduce the protection given to heritage assets affected by proposed development.

The Archaeology and Planning Case Studies Project was set up to help sector organisations respond to further proposed changes in the planning system. It was undertaken for the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and funded by Historic England. The collection of accessible archaeology and planning case studies can be drawn on to illustrate the successful implementation of current national planning policy. They also serve to demonstrate the problems that can result if these policies are not followed or if such policies in the future were to be removed.

Download the project report and case studies

The recently published government white paper (Planning for the Future, August 2020) anticipates radical change in land use planning. The proposed new planning system will require careful design to avoid a return to the difficulties of the pre-PPG16 era when discoveries of archaeological sites during development resulted in both delay and difficulty for the new development and loss of important heritage. In focusing on the implementation of current planning policies covering the assessment and investigation of heritage assets affected by development, the Archaeology and Planning Case Studies project has highlighted key features of the current planning system that will need to be encompassed within any new planning regime to be created following the white paper.

Highlights from the project results

The 118 case studies collected from the heritage sector include a wide range of development types. Their geographical spread includes all regions of England. Together they represent the most comprehensive available data set illustrating the implementation of government planning policy in respect of heritage assets (especially those that are not designated). Some themes illustrated by the case studies are highlighted below:

Archaeological assessment and evaluation carried out before the determination of a planning application

Evidence of the successful use of pre-determination assessment and evaluation is provided by 43 case studies where new heritage assets with archaeological interest were discovered, some of them of national importance. In 22 (50%) of these cases there had been no known heritage assets on the development site prior to evaluation. A good example is shown below at Pamington in Gloucestershire.

Here a completely new Iron Age and Roman settlement was discovered during the geophysical survey stage of evaluation. In all of these cases development was able to proceed, often with some modification to preserve important heritage assets, and/or with subsequent programmes of archaeological investigation.

In a further 22 case studies, there was no pre-determination evaluation and unexpected discoveries of heritage assets with archaeological interest were subsequently made. These resulted in significant additional costs or delays to the developer and/or poor outcomes for heritage. In four of these cases the discoveries affected the viability of the development.

The use of pre-commencement planning conditions

Pre-commencement planning conditions are widely used to specify and agree programmes of archaeological recording, analysis, reporting and archiving before development starts. A total of 77 case studies illustrate the successful use of pre-commencement conditions to secure archaeological investigation and post-excavation analysis of heritage assets on development sites. Work at Messingham Furnance near Scunthorpe, the earliest iron furnace discovered in England so far shows how significant many of these discoveries can be. 

Six case studies provide evidence of the problems that can arise if pre-commencement planning conditions cannot be used or if the terms of pre-commencement conditions are not complied with. A further five illustrate poor outcomes where conditions were incorrectly discharged before the agreed programme of archaeological investigation and reporting had been completed. There were 11 cases where conditions still in force enabled programmes of work to be completed, sometimes after lengthy delays.

Access to specialist archaeological advice for local planning authorities

The availability of high quality specialist advice to local planning authorities is essential to successful policy implementation. The case studies demonstrate the crucial role that local authority advisers play. They also show how difficulties can arise when specialist advice is not available to, or not utilised by, the local planning authority. In addition to supplying individual case studies four advisers to local planning authorities contributed short papers on the successful implementation of planning policies in diverse areas of the country: County Durham, Gloucester City, Greater London, and Surrey. These papers complement the individual case studies by presenting in more detail how policy implementation and professional practice has evolved within a range of very different organisations.

New archaeological discoveries

The quantity, range and significance of new discoveries of heritage assets with archaeological interest demonstrated by the case studies is striking. It is clear that the effective use of planning policies is delivering significant new knowledge about all periods of human history across the country, while allowing development to proceed.

The case studies collected can also be used to explore other themes in current policy implementation and professional practice highlighted in the report such as:

  • The identification of non-designated heritage assets of national importance
  • Cases involving human remains
  • Cases where there was a high level of public engagement

Recommendations from the project report

The project report makes nine recommendations covering:

  • The monitoring of the impact of changes to the planning system on the management of heritage assets
  • The inter-relationship of the designation and planning systems and the implementation of the national importance project
  • Variations in policy implementation across England
  • Professional practice in desk-based assessments and evaluation
  • Confidentiality
  • National and local advisory roles
  • Local authority services
  • Future work on case studies

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