CIfA publishes study of archaeology in the English planning process

A CIfA report, funded by Historic England, analyses 118 case studies of archaeological projects undertaken through the planning process.

The cases describe how the impact of proposed development on designated and non-designated heritage assets is assessed, and how that impact is mitigated through modification of the development or offset by archaeological investigation and dissemination. The case studies also demonstrate how these approaches have delivered a huge amount of new knowledge about England’s past, and have been used to engage communities and share new understandings of a place in ways that bring genuine public benefit.

More importantly, this is the first study of its kind to provide evidence of how well the process works when it is applied as intended by planning policy, and how heritage assets, development and the public interest can be needlessly damaged when it is not.

The case studies show how risks to and opportunities for heritage and development are managed successfully when the impacts of construction are properly evaluated. In half the studies previously unknown heritage assets were encountered and then planned for, enabling development to proceed. The report highlights the problems caused when planning authorities do not require such evaluations or they are poorly done. In particular, the case studies show that unexpected discoveries can cause delays and additional costs, especially when human remains are found.

Jan Wills, who compiled the report with Stewart Bryant, said

We found 22 cases where there was no pre-determination evaluation. On each occasion unexpected discoveries caused significant additional costs or delays to the developer. Worse, in four cases the discoveries affected the viability of the development.’

The report demonstrates that pre-commencement conditions, which have been looked on with suspicion by government, are the best way of ensuring public benefit through an increase in knowledge and the engagement of the public in new discoveries.

Victoria Thomson, Historic England’s Head of National Strategy, said

I am pleased that the report we commissioned from CIfA provides timely evidence on the operation of the planning system, which I am sure will prove valuable to planners and archaeologists alike

The survey underlines how crucial local authority archaeological advisers are, and how the ability to achieve sustainable development is undermined when specialist advice is not available to, or used by, the planning authority.

To see further findings, and to read nine important recommendations about the impact of recent changes to planning, identification of nationally important assets, opportunities to improve practice, and protecting vulnerable expert advice to planners, please download the full report from the Historic England website.

Download the full report

View the case studies