The consultation considers both the Cheshire Archaeological Planning Advisory Service (APAS) and the Historic Environment Team (HET). APAS is responsible for planning policy and the archaeological implications of development and maintains the Cheshire Historic Environment Record. HET is responsible for heritage asset management in Chester and the wider borough and plays an important role advising on visible monuments, buried remains, finds and archives, including advising on the management of high profile sites such as the city walls, amphitheatre and Lion Salt Works.
The Council for British Archaeology encourages members to participate in the consultation and send in their views on the current services and how they think they should be structured in the future.
Like many local authorities, the Council is under pressure to meet tough budget targets. Despite having found savings of £113 million a year since 2009, a further 20% of the Council’s overall budget expected to be cut by 2016.
Whilst recognising the imperative to make savings wherever possible, the CBA believes that historic environment services represent a critical line of defence in the protection for archaeology and heritage, delivered at a reasonable cost to authorities. They play a vital role in ensuring sustainable development through the planning system and provide opportunities for the public to learn about the past by providing advice and supplying information accessed through the local historic environment record. This assertion is supported by the government’s National Planning Policy Framework which requires that;
“Local planning authorities should have up-to-date evidence about the historic environment in their area and use it to assess the significance of heritage assets and the contribution they make to their environment. They should also use it to predict the likelihood that currently unidentified heritage assets, particularly sites of historic and archaeological interest, will be discovered in the future. Local planning authorities should either maintain or have access to a historic environment record.” (NPPF para. 169)
Without a strong service there is a serious risk that development will be approved without a proper assessment of archaeological impact at an early stage in the planning process. This can result in unexpected discoveries of archaeological remains during development, which not only poses the risk of unnecessary and potentially illegal damage to irreplaceable archaeological sites, but can also lead to significant delays and disruption, thus putting future developments at risk and jeopardising investment in the region. This is clearly at odds with the council’s aims to encourage economic growth in the region.
Archaeology can generate a large amount of investment from the private and commercial sectors through the planning system and can therefore contribute to the economic growth of the region. These principles are at the very heart of Chester’s ‘One City Plan’. However, this is only possible by maintaining suitably qualified, experienced staff in post to monitor planning applications and to update and manage the Historic Environment Record. This is increasingly important considering the current focus on local and neighbourhood planning within the planning system.
At present, the services in the region have a recognised expertise in both development control and wider historic environment management, such as public presentation of monuments and their protection and enhancement through local plan policies. It is important that these distinct skills are preserved, whatever model for services is decided upon as a result of this consultation.
It is necessary to underscore the importance of retaining experienced specialists in these services at a capacity appropriate for an area of intense historical and archaeological significance such as Chester – which remains one of five nationally designation Areas of Archaeological Importance – and its surrounding counties.
The CBA supports the search for efficiencies and innovative arrangements for service delivery and maximising revenue streams, provided that high standards of services are delivered in a consistent and reliable fashion. The proposed merger of APAS and the HET may have the potential to create further economies of scale and greater resilience for the service. However plans to make the HET service completely self-financing by 2017 seem to us to be unrealistic if a reasonable level of service is expected to be maintained.
Have your say
If you are a user of these services or a local resident who is concerned about the historic environment and archaeology you can find the consultation here: http://www.cheshirearchaeology.org.uk/?p=1638. You can also contact the CBA at LHEN@archaeologyuk.org.