An aerial photograph of eight trial archaeological trenches in a green field.
Trial excavation trenches in advance of construction of a solar farm in Wroughton, Swindon 201 © Historic England. Photographed by Damian Grady
Trial excavation trenches in advance of construction of a solar farm in Wroughton, Swindon 201 © Historic England. Photographed by Damian Grady

Archaeology in Development Management – New Research from ALGAO:UK

By Quinton Carroll, Chair, ALGAO:England

The Archaeology and Planning Case Studies project has highlighted the importance of the role of specialist archaeological advisers in local planning authorities. Their contribution is vital in achieving successful outcomes for both heritage and development. A new report – ‘Archaeology in Development Management’ – commissioned by the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO) provides further evidence of the value of the work of these specialist staff.

This analysis of the financial benefits of this part of the sector shows that planning-led archaeology contributes £218 million per year to the economy and provides employment to 74% of all archaeologists. This means that for every £1 spent by local authorities on archaeological advisers, £15 is returned back to the wider economy.

The report also challenges the misconception that archaeology causes delay and incurs prohibitive costs. The research could find no evidence of delay where the planning process was followed correctly. Archaeological costs account for less than 0.2% of total construction costs. There is no pattern of failure of archaeological projects as a result of developers’ financial failure and thus no need for public funds to be brought in to intervene.

All this is delivered by the efforts of around 300 local authority staff across the UK. Each tackles around 3,000 planning applications per year  a significant volume of projects and casework. ALGAO’s own statistics show that the number of planning applications for development with archaeological implications is 3% per year (1). Therefore, of the 450,000 applications every year, over 12,000 will have archaeological implications. Not all of these will result in fieldwork projects or will actually progress successfully through the planning system to development on the ground.

The purpose of development archaeology is to advance knowledge and deliver public benefit whilst managing the impact of growth on the historic environment. Local authority officers have a critical role in ensuring that due process is applied correctly and that standards are maintained. It’s a great example of how a small group of people are essential in realising the benefits provided by the wider sector.

However, like all procedures, the interaction of archaeology and planning needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that one doesn’t take place to the detriment of the other. The planning process provides archaeology with unprecedented access to knowledge and data. As archaeologists we must be careful to maintain the balance that provides that access and to demonstrate the value that is derived from it.

This last point is all the more important in light of the proposed shake up of the planning system as set out in the Planning White Paper of August 2020. At time of writing, there is little specific detail around the historic environment and what there is mainly relates to designated assets. There is an opportunity here for the sector to lobby for the statutory management of non-designated heritage assets.

A revision of the NPPF is promised for later in the year, and it is this that sets out the processes that inform development management archaeology. These two changes, and the backdrop that has driven them, present probably the biggest challenge to archaeological development management since the advent of PPG16. Our challenge is to continue to demonstrate that properly managed archaeology enriches people’s lives, adds value to and does not hinder development. The planning system has delivered exceptional archaeological outcomes and we must keep that momentum through any forthcoming debates and changes to legislation and policy.

ALGAO is grateful to Landward Research for undertaking the work and producing Archaeology in Development Management.

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