The CBA will be working hard over the next few months to raise these issues with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as well as the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group and other MPs and peers. We are in the process of planning further campaigns with our colleagues in the archaeological sector, and will also need the help of the general public to engage with your local MP, and add your support to these actions.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
The Housing and Planning Act was granted Royal Assent in May, and is a major piece of Government legislation covering a wide area of housing issues, from tenancies, social housing and the provision of housing, to the registration of brownfield land for housing allocation, and the automatic granting of planning permission in principle. All of these actions are part of the government agenda to stimulate the economy and development in England.
However, the Act makes local authorities responsible for holding a register of brownfield land suitable for housing development. The sites contained in these registers have the potential to be automatically granted planning permission in principle (PiP), and this is also applicable for land allocated in other ‘qualifying documents’ (which will eventually include all Local and Neighbourhood Plans). There is an immediate problem for archaeology where permission in principle is issued without robust archaeological assessment, and this opens up potentially important archaeological sites to damage and destruction during the development process.
The Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill
The notes for the newly proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill outlined in the Queen’s speech say that the Bill will introduce ‘measures to reform and speed up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement planning conditions’. According to the Government, this will include measures ‘to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary.'
The Government’s view is that ‘Excessive pre-commencement planning conditions can slow down or stop the construction of homes after they have been given planning permission’. However, these conditions are crucial for the identification of heritage assets of archaeological interest which may be present on development sites.
At the moment, sites earmarked for development go through pre-determination assessment and evaluation to ascertain whether sites include, or have the potential to include, heritage assets of archaeological interest. Whilst this proposed Bill remains vague on the exact definition of the ‘excessive pre-commencement planning conditions’, archaeology is one of the subjects most likely to be impacted, alongside protections for wildlife. The Telegraph suggests that ‘archaeological and wildlife surveys’ will be ‘swept away’ once this legislation is in place. The combination of these two pieces of legislation could be devastating to the archaeological sector, and to the robust protection of this nation’s history.
These proposals seem to go against the wider commitments of the Government to sustainable development and historic environment protections, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
It is recognised that, in a small minority of cases, pre-planning conditions cases do constrain the progress of development, and some may require further archaeological investigation before development can go ahead. However, this process is absolutely necessary unless we are to sacrifice the precautionary principle of planning which enables proper assessment of viability prior to development going ahead.
We have a long history of successfully integrating archaeological investigations into the planning process in England, since the implementation of PPG16 25 years ago. Archaeological conditions are applied only to a small number of planning applications, and are only applied where absolutely necessary. Working to briefs set by informed archaeological advisors to local planning authorities, archaeological consultants and commercial archaeology companies are already well versed in the expert and efficient discharge of planning conditions, risk management, and adding value to development works.
However, whilst we support streamlined processes to encourage growth and development, we cannot support the assertion that the current level of investigations into archaeology and other environmental concerns unnecessarily limits developments during the planning process, and that these are responsible for some of the delays to development and house building. The intention of archaeological work undertaken in the planning process is to manage risk, reduce costs and speed up construction schedules for developers, whilst protecting and preserving our nation’s precious archaeological heritage. Developers understand their responsibilities and often the archaeological work enhances the value of the development and provides positive publicity for the developer.
The CBA will be working with our partners in the Archaeology Forum to ensure that the voices of all of those working to protect and preserve the historic environment are heard, and to seek reassurance from the government that their commitment to the protection of our shared heritage assets, through the NPPF, continues to receive strong support.