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Planning Act 2008 - consultation on examination procedures for nationally significant infrastructure projects (DCLG)

Submission from ALGAO Planning and Legislation Committee

To: NSIP.examinations [at], 01/10/09

The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers for England (ALGAO:England) is the national body representing local government archaeology services at County, District, Metropolitan, Unitary and National Park level in England. ALGAO:England co-ordinates the views of its member authorities (92 in total) and presents them to government and to other national organisations. It also acts as an advisor to the Local Government Association (LGA) on archaeological matters. The range of interests of our members embraces all aspects of the historic environment including archaeology, buildings and the historic landscape.

We believe that the historic environment, in all its aspects, has a valuable role to play in helping the Government achieve its goals of improving the quality of peoples’ lives, and in the context of new development and change, place-shaping and creating sustainable communities. These matters can be particularly sensitive in relation to major developments, and it is important that the historic environment is seen to be handled with care. The historic environment can absorb change that is appropriate and commensurate with its importance.

Our overarching concern with the examination procedures is that the Commission is presented with the appropriate level of detail to understand the historic environment issues it has to consider. As advisors to or in local government we would hope that the ALGAO member archaeology services are consulted by our relevant local authorities and the scheme promoters and thus have the opportunity to ensure that the Commission has the requisite information.

We are also concerned that the Commission has the relevant skills, or that an appropriate assessor is appointed, to both ensure that all necessary information is provided, and that it is expertly assessed.

An especial concern is that the procedures set out for archaeology in planning in PPG 16 are implemented. In particular that not only desk-based assessment of archaeological remains, historic buildings or landscape features, is undertaken, but that where that assessment demonstrates the necessity of it, further field evaluation to `ground truth’ such assessment is completed and adequately reported for the Commission’s consideration. Also that provision is made for early access to land for archaeological investigations in the measures to support the Commission.

In our experience EIAs either do not always provide enough information, or assess and summarise it poorly (see Planarch 2: Review of Cultural Heritage Coverage in Environmental Impact Assessments Inevitably with Major Projects there is a great variety of issues to be considered, and at times the historic environment may suffer as greater priorities are placed elsewhere.

Our concerns are thus raised by Annex 5: The Infrastructure Planning (Decisions) Regulations 2010, where a clear direction is made that “the decision-maker must have regard to the desirability of preserving the scheduled monument or its setting”, and similarly for listed buildings and conservation areas, which we do of course endorse and support. However this should be taken further, in line with PPG 16, that remains of potential national importance that are only recognised in the assessment and field evaluation phases of preparation for an infrastructure project are merited equal protection, or at least the desirability of it. The PPS 15, currently out for consultation, extends this policy, that heritage assets of all kinds should be assessed for their relative importance and the desirability of their protection where possible, a policy which we strongly support. Similarly, although the draft regulations require a regard to preserving or enhancing the character of a conservation area, this does not acknowledge the wider value of the historic environment in contributing to local character and distinctiveness and the role of the planning process in conserving that value as recognised in the draft PPS 15.

Consultation Question 1

We believe that procedures should be in place to ensure that local authorities and promoters have considered the full range of information presented in support of an application, that they have consulted fully their appropriate advisors, and that where the need for further studies to ensure adequate information have been recommended, that these have been undertaken. This may involve either the Commission or local government developing information `checklists’ appropriate to the varying types of applications.

Consultation Question 2

Whilst English Heritage may well have a role to play in assisting the examining authority consider the historic environment, the Institute for Archaeologists have a role in setting standards, and ALGAO considerable experience in assessing archaeological and built environment schemes.

Consultation Question 3

Whilst the Infrastructure Planning Regulations faithfully follow the legislative protection of the historic environment, they do not capture the full range of Government policy, in its attempt to protect nationally important but undesignated historic assets.

R Whytehead
Convenor ALGAO Planning & Legislation Committee
01 October 2009

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