Queen’s Speech Wednesday 18th May 2016: new planning bill threat to archaeology

The background notes for the newly proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill in the Queens speech contains the following:

Planning Conditions

  • To ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary.
  • Excessive pre-commencement planning conditions can slow down or stop the construction of homes after they have been given planning permission.
  • The new legislation would tackle the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, and thereby ensure that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay.

RESCUE says:

We are deeply concerned by the implication in the Queen’s Speech that archaeology is responsible for unnecessary delays to housing development.

Since 1990, when archaeology became integrated into the planning process and developers were made responsible for recording archaeological sites before destruction, conditions requiring archaeological recording (such as excavation) have been an integral part of the process. Such conditions are only applied when regarded as necessary by the professional archaeologist advising the local planning authority. One English county estimates that less than 1% of applications are subject to an archaeological condition. The suggestion that this may be a misuse of planning conditions is immensely damaging and could move us rapidly back to the days when developers regarded archaeology as an unquantifiable risk that should be destroyed before anyone noticed it.

RESCUE notes that initial press comment has correctly identified archaeology as one of the topics that is often the subject of such planning conditions, along with the natural environment, noise and vibration. We agree with yesterday’s comment by the National Trust  as also true for our irreplaceable heritage sites:

“We’re worried that planning is becoming a service for developers rather than a balanced, independent process. There is a danger that that too often, planning permission can be pushed through – even where it goes against a council’s local plan. Even our finest landscapes and important green space like National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belts are under pressure.”

RESCUE completely rejects the idea that pre-commencement archaeological conditions are a major cause of delay in housing developments. We support a system that balances the requirement for development with the need to properly record the unique traces of our shared past. Our heritage is of immense value culturally and economically and this must not be sacrificed for short term and short-sighted political gain.

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