oversaw the listing of the Abbey Road studios and other modern sites (and the submission of a Wikipedia page as evidence in a listing case), and will doubtless be considering the future of listing and scheduling – assisted by English Heritage’s new National Heritage Protection Plan. But even a new high for scheduling might achieve little if the wishes of a Cambridgeshire council leader were to become national policy. In a speech on behalf of Fenland district council on June 21, described as a “defining policy statement”, Alan Melton laid out his plans to “maximise the benefits of large scale development” – and remove requirements for archaeological investigation. Melton, who describes himself as a quantity surveyor, National Trust member and bricklayer, was doubtless being rhetorical when he said, “There are of course some areas where we have a duty to the local community”; ratepayers might justly ask, “Only some?” He dismissed fears of changing climate: “I don’t believe that polar bears will be floating down the Nene in my lifetime.” But he had more to say about archaeology.
From July 1, he said, there would be
Bunny huggers at work in councillor Melton’s patch, at Must Farm
24|British Archaeology|September October 2011
no planning requirement for an “archaeological dig/survey”, except, perhaps, “next to a 1,000-year-old church”. “The bunny huggers won’t like this”, he judged, “but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out”.
The system Melton dislikes has been responsible for decades of archaeological investigation of material that would otherwise have been lost without record, transforming the story of the country’s past. Mike Heyworth, CBA director, pointed out on the Radio 4 PM programme that the suggested changes would be illegal. The Times published a protest letter from over 50 archaeologists, and Melton seemed to have few supporters. On June 30 Melton said the council had no intention of breaking the law, but was seeking a more “reasonable and flexible” approach to protecting “Fenland’s unique conservation and heritage assets”.
The future Alan Melton claims “an excellent relationship with Cambridgeshire county council archaeology team”, a rapport that may now need a little burnishing. Don Foster, a Liberal Democrat MP with a personal interest in heritage, raised the matter with the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles. He replied the government did not intend to include such measures in the localism bill, which gives councils no powers to deregulate planning in ways described by Melton; Foster called the councillor’s comments “crass”. We may have clarification in October, when Melton has promised to “take the message” to the Conservative party conference.
It might be claimed that each of these cases reflects no more than innocent, if damaging, ignorance. With better education about the law, the argument would run, the problems could be avoided. Landowners would not bulldoze monuments and councillors would not advocate trashing heritage (in an approach that if pursued, would almost certainly cause more trouble for builders than the present system of advance liaising). It cannot help that English Heritage, apparently losing sight of the importance of archaeological monuments, is one of the parties that should be spreading knowledge.
There is always a place for education. But teaching can become preaching, and risks doing little more than address bureaucratic process and being seen as meddling. As the next contribution makes clear, there are more positive and powerful ways to involve a wider public in archaeology. THEPRIZEWITHINOURGRASP
English planning law has recently been sensibly tidied up. There was much consultation about heritage, and the result, says Karen Bewick on behalf of the Southport Group, could transform archaeological practice – for the better
For 20 years, two policy guides – ppg15 and ppg16 – have been cornerstones of England’s approach to planning and heritage. The scale of today’s archaeological profession, and the enormous growth in knowledge of England's archaeology, were built on those guides. Yet this was achieved with a system that emphasised recording: it did not explicitly value understanding, by professionals or public.
Last year these guides were replaced by Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (pps5). Many heritage practitioners were closely involved in its development. Its publication was a seminal moment, heralding one of the most significant opportunities in decades, for archaeologists, their clients in construction and industry, and the public.
Now, for the first time, heritage planning policy emphasises public benefit and involvement, as well as standards and professional accreditation. Most importantly, it focuses on understanding and enhancing cultural significance. This is an opportunity for everyone, from volunteers to commercial archaeologists, to improve the quality of their work and raise the profession’s profile.
There is a problem, however. These opportunities are threatened by the substantial cuts that local governments are having to make to their budgets, shrinking funding to historic environment services and undermining the process of development-led archaeology. To tackle the challenge, a small professional working party was formed, after a debate at the Institute for Archaeologists’ conference in Southport in April last year. The Southport Group, as the working party called itself, sought to highlight the opportunities of pps5.
The vision Drawing on feedback from workshops and an online consultation, the group prepared a substantial report which was launched on July 13 (see end note); it then disbanded.
The report calls for improved collaboration between heritage organisations, to make the most of difficult times and, with a single, powerful voice, encourage support from public, media and government. It then outlines a vision.
In this new world, local authorities and community groups share management of the historic environment. Commercial, local authority, academic and voluntary archaeologists work together in research, understanding and interpretation, not just recording. Planning decisions take real account of public values and concerns. It is standard practice for commercial archaeological work to involve the local community.
There are gains to business, as archaeology adds value to development. It contributes to sustainability and place-shaping (defined by the website Future Communities, as creating “attractive, prosperous and safe communities, places where people want to live, work and do business”). It adds value to design, brand, and sales and rental opportunities. It facilitates the securing of consents, risk management, public relations, corporate social responsibility and marketing.
To achieve this, all archaeologists meet professional standards, often having acquired new skills and accreditation. Developers commission research into the interests of a place and its significance. Planning decisions are based on sound knowledge derived from professionally managed heritage environment records (HERs).
Ready for change The report is aimed at all those with the power to shape England’s historic environment, from ministers and MPs, to government agencies, local governments, developers, the media, the public and of course all archaeologists, whatever their status or interests.
The principles of pps5 demand a strong commitment to change, which will be both personally and institutionally challenging. They require the historic environment sector to work in new ways, more rewarding for society and more satisfying for those who commission and conduct the work. Our research showed overwhelmingly that we are ready for these changes. This would be a great prize for any profession, and it is within our grasp.
Realising the Benefits of Planning-led
Investigation in the Historic Environment: A Framework for
Delivery, by the Southport Group (isbn 9780948393204) is available at www.archaeologists.net/southport
British Archaeology|September October 2011|25