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Heritage, Development and Land Use

Changes in development and land use will continue to have a fundamental role in shaping the historic environment in all parts of England. Such changes have the potential to damage the significance of heritage assets and their wider settings.  The development process, however, can also reveal previously hidden historic elements too and enhance our understanding.

A number of priority areas for research have been identified.


Population growth and especially the numbers of households, along with other development (industrial, retail, commercial, etc), will have an impact on historic fabric. In particular this may be due to the adaptation of historic buildings in rural areas and urban cores.

The demand for housing, either new build, conversion, or renovation of existing structures, continues to increase. However the rate of house building is currently at its lowest peacetime level since 1924 and this has placed considerable pressure on government to stimulate the sector.

Assessing the impact of increased housing construction on historic sites and landscapes is crucial in allowing us to understand and manage these places better.


Each year the Government sets out sets out its priorities for improving the provision of vital infrastructure in the immediate and medium-term. These priorities are backed by multi-billion pound investment across a range of development and service options including:

  • Roads
  • Rail
  • Local transport
  • Aviation
  • Ports
  • Energy, floods and coastal erosion
  • Communications
  • Water
  • Waste
  • Science and research

Much of the activity involved in delivering these infrastructure improvements will have an impact on various aspects of the historic environment - either assets themselves, or their settings.

Development at Luton Airport on surrounding historic fields.
Continued development and regeneration at Luton Airport is rapidly encroaching on historic fieldscapes in the area. © Historic England NMR 26855/003


The minerals industry has made a fundamental contribution to the historic character and significance of England’s landscapes and settlements. It has been a major source of funding for archaeological investigation.

The future will see growing demand for the raw materials (mostly in the form of sand, gravel, and crushed rock) required for housing and infrastructure development.

Indigenous stone and slate, often from designated landscapes and sites, is also vital for the repair of historic buildings and for locally distinctive new development.

Forestry and woodland

The Government wishes to expand forestry and woodland cover to 15% from its present total of 9% of England’s land area. Increases are also sought in the production of timber products and woodfuel in historic woodland, including short rotation coppicing. 

The evidence base for heritage features within existing woodland remains relatively poor to date. Non-native species and changes to silviculture to strengthen resilience against disease, and increased incidence of disease affecting native species, will change the appearance of historic woodland and the setting to heritage features.

Farming and land use

All of these drivers for change will affect farmland, at present around 70% of England’s land area.  The need to increase arable productivity, and the decline of managed grazing in upland areas, also pose significant threats to archaeological sites of national and local importance. These changes require innovative and constructive approaches to the identification and management of sites.

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