At its meeting on 10 December 2010, IfA Executive committee agreed that the greatest threat to archaeology and the historic environment comes from cuts to local authority historic environment services. These services are responsible for identifying heritage assets that may be affected by development, for requiring planning applicants to provide the information necessary to make an informed decision, and for ensuring that the applicant takes the necessary steps to mitigate or offset the environmental harm caused by the proposed development, in accordance with government planning policy. Crucially, local government archaeologists deal with undesignated assets – the important and significant parts of our heritage that make up 95% of the whole. While PPS5 in England sets out clear guidance on a local authority’s responsibilities and represents a unique opportunity for significant improvements in practice, it and its longer-established counterparts elsewhere in the UK depend on the retention of expert professional staff for their effective application.
The continued employment of such staff is far from assured. There is already extremely bad news from some English counties, and more is rumoured. At a time of unprecedented cuts, the historic environment is unlikely to be top of a beleaguered authority’s priority list. And yet an effective service has much to contribute to local government core objectives relating to communities, sustainable development, economy, and environment. The Institute takes every opportunity to make that case.
In recent months IfA, often in partnership with other bodies in the Archaeology Forum, has been making the case to government ministers and officials and to senior staff in national bodies for concentrating resources on protecting local government services. The Institute is pleased that recent statements by English Heritage indicate that that body recognises and understands the essential role of local authorities, and has requested Westminster government to remind English local authorities of their responsibilities. In Scotland IfA forms part of the Built Environment Forum Scotland task force, which is seeking an amendment to the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities to take expert historic environment advice, and has identified MSPs who appear willing to take this on.
IfA will continue to make the arguments for the retention of unique skills in public sector bodies at both national and local levels. Experience shows that the Institute is most effective where it lobbies strategically with politicians, officials and the press – but IfA is always happy to write to individual bodies where members at a local level agree that this would be helpful. Likewise we know that our successes our greatest where we work in partnership, and so we have worked closely with the Association of Local Government Archaeology Officers throughout this campaign.