Planning advice

The provision of advice on strategic planning policies (at regional, unitary, county and district council level) and on individual planning applications through the development control process is a key aspect of the work of local government archaeological services. Whilst legislation (Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and National Heritage Act 1973) affords protection to some sites, recognised to be of national importance, provision for the protection and investigation of the majority of archaeological sites has come about through the development of planning legislation and the recognition of archaeology as a material consideration in the planning process.

Archaeology and development proposals

As a material consideration, planning authorities are required to take archaeology into consideration when determining planning applications. Planning policy guidance notes set out Government policy on planning issues and provide guidance to local authorities and others on the operation of the planning system. Local authority archaeological advisers ('curators') assess the likely archaeological impact of development proposals and advise an appropriate mitigation strategy where necessary. If you are planning a development which may affect archaeological remains, it pays to consult your local government archaeologist as early as possible. They can help by advising on modification of proposals to reduce their archaeological impact.

Archaeology in practice

In some cases it may be necessary for would-be developers to commission archaeological work before or during development, in accordance with government guidance (in particular National Planning Policy Framework (link broken) (NPPF - published March 2012. PPS 5 Practice Guide (link broken)) in England, 'Planning Policy Wales(link broken) in Wales, SPP (link broken) and PAN 2/2011 in Scotland) and development plans. Such work can take a number of forms:

  • desk-based assessment is an assessment of the known or potential archaeological resource within a specified area or site, consisting of a collation of existing written and graphic information in order to identify the likely character, extent, quality and worth of the known or potential archaeological resource in a local, regional or national context as appropriate.
  • field evaluation is a limited programme of non-intrusive and/or intrusive fieldwork aimed at gaining information about the archaeological resource within a given area or site. This includes the presence or absence, character and extent, date, integrity, state of preservation and relative quality of archaeological remains and may involve a variety of investigative techniques, including fieldwalking, trial trenching and geophysical survey. It enables an assessment of the worth of any archaeological remains in a local, regional, national or international context and provides the basis for recommendation of appropriate mitigation strategy. This may comprise full or partial preservation in situ, further investigation and recording, or the results may merit no further archaeological work.
  • excavation is the excavation and recording of archaeological evidence which will be unavoidably destroyed by development. Its purpose is to examine the archaeological resource within a given area or site within the framework of defined research objectives, to seek a better understanding of and compile a record of that resource.
  • a watching brief is a programme of observation and investigation conducted during any operation carried out for non -archaeological reasons where there is a possibility that archaeological deposits may be disturbed or destroyed, enabling recording of archaeological evidence which comes to light during the course of development.
  • building recording is a programme of work intended to establish the character, history, dating, form and archaeological development of a specified building or structure, or complex and its setting, including its buried components. It aims to both seek a better understanding of the structures and enable formulation of a strategy for their conservation, alteration, demolition, repair or management.

All would be followed by analysis of the results and preparation of a report for the client and deposition of the archive with a museum. All work should be subject to an agreed written scheme of investigation or project design.

To assist in the preparation and agreement of such written schemes of investigation, various guidance documents were produced by ALGAO and other organisations. Please note these documents (listed below) are historic guidance relevant to previous versions of planning frameworks.


Model Briefs and Specifications for Archaeological Assessments and Field Evaluations (1993)
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ALGAO:England Post-Excavation Assessment Advice Note
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