The future of local government archaeology services

The main thrust of this consultation appears to suggest that government archaeology services will soon be replaced with private ones. If I have utterly misunderstood this, then I apologise, and await correction.

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An Inquiry for the  Minister for Culture, Communications  and Creative Industries, led by John Howell MP and Lord Redesdale, and  supported  by The Archaeology Forum (whose website was last updated in 2011 – see to it chaps – very bad form).

Call for written evidence

In response to issues raised by representatives of the archaeological sector at an event organised by the Archaeology Forum in October 20 13, the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, initiated a review to be  undertaken by Lord Redesdale and John Howell MP into the future of local government archaeological services.

These services have traditionally played a key role  in the identification, protection, conservation and investigation of England’s rich archaeological heritage- including sites of undisputed international or national importance. In addition they also  provide the backdrop for the nation’s long  tradition of public involvement with  archaeology.

The review wishes to identify sustainable ways of improving or maintaining the provision of these services, recognising that government funding is unlikely to be increased in the short or medium term.

The inquiry wishes to engage the following themes:

1)   The consideration of options for improving the sustainability of local services providing (i) curatorial advice, and (ii) HERs &  archaeological archives, drawing on best practice from local authorities in England and elsewhere in the UK;

2)   Whether the knowledge and enthusiasm of third sector organisations could be  harnessed to help supplement public involvement in archaeology;

3)   The consideration of (i) how the impending creation of Historic  England could provide opportunities to forge closer links between local services and their national counterparts, and (ii) if current sector-produced standards and guidance provide the necessary rigour to underpin such a diversity of provision.

As we move to achieve these goals, evidence would be welcomed on the following eight questions by the deadline of 14th  February 2014:


The existing models for local government archaeology services

1.    Do you consider the present system of advice provided from and to local authorities of different types to be  working satisfactorily and to acceptable professional standards?

a.     Do you have evidence of local  authorities acting without archaeological advice, or with clearly inadequate provision? Which  are they?

b.     Do you have evidence of local authorities planning or considering acting without archaeological advice, or with  clearly inadequate provision? Which  are they?

c.     What trends have you  identified?

Please give examples where possible.

2.    What are the consequences of inadequate provision of archaeological advice to local authorities? The inquiry is particularly interested in the real  or potential

• loss of archaeological sites without intervention

• loss of public benefits from participation opportunities, dissemination of the results of archaeological work, archives of the products of that work  and interpretation via museums

• increased uncertainty and cost for developers

• failure to target advice and grants in rural areas

• loss of essential archaeological skills

Alternative models for providing planning advice

The inquiry will consider other models for the provision of archaeological advice to local authorities,

3.     What other models in England, elsewhere in the UK, or further afield would you  like to draw to the inquiry’s attention?

a.     What are their advantages and disadvantages?

4.     What role  could the proposed Historic  England play  with  local authorities and other partners to create a national framework of heritage protection?

5.      How well do/could alternative models cope with  the maritime archaeological heritage out to the 12NM limit?

6.      Do you believe that sector-produced standards are sufficient to underpin diverse models of service provision? Please elaborate on any suggested improvements

Your recommendation

 7.      What would be your preferred model for the provision of archaeological advice?

a.     Is your preference for  continuation of the status quo?

b.     If not, which model or models for alternative provision would you  recommend, and why?

Broader collaboration

The inquiry is keen to hear how others could contribute to improving or maintaining existing levels of service.

8.     In what ways could the knowledge and enthusiasm of third-sector organisations be  harnessed to support the work  of the present or future mix of public and private organisations in delivering your preferred model of heritage protection



Please send your  response to taf@archaeologists. net by 14 February 2014.

 Please limit your response to roughly 2000 words.  You may  include web-links to factual supporting data and evidence, and where such  evidence is not available on line you may  append it.


Local   government authority archaeology   services: A briefing paper

Why does archaeology matter?

Everything that is special about England has  been touched and shaped by millennia of daily human lives. Archaeology is about uncovering, recording and interpreting that story and is central to our understanding and appreciation of our  uniquely rich and diverse past. lt helps explain the geography of our  towns and cities, the growth of trade and industry, the evolution of our  countryside and the development of our  political and cultural identity.

Understanding and appreciating this  legacy makes a core contribution to local identity. A sense of place and a common cultural perspective are essential ingredients of quality of life for communities and for individual citizens. Archaeology links people in a direct and often exciting way with  continuity and change in our  society and our  surroundings. Like other disciplines in the historic environment, archaeology makes a major contribution to sustainable development and growth, heritage-led regeneration, the tourist economy and wellbeing.

And yet,  unlike much of the rest of the historic environment, most archaeological sites have no  statutory protection. For many monuments, the biggest potential changes come from development, and their sole means of protection since 1990  has  been through spatial planning policy  and process. Importantly, this process and the invaluable and vulnerable archaeological resource is  not managed by central government or English  Heritage but by local planning authorities and their specialist advisors –  who are a non-statutory,  discretionary resource and who are rapidly disappearing.

 What do local authority archaeology services do?

 i. Maintain Historic Environment Records (HERs)

The bedrock of any archaeology or historic environment service is the Historic  Environment Record (HER), which should be a comprehensive, accessible and authoritative record of the local historic environment. The  HER is used to formulate advice to local authorities for informed planning and decision making, to communities engaged in neighbourhood planning, and to inform those who

develop, manage, interpret or study the local historic environment.  But the HER is not a static record. lt needs to be  continuously managed and updated to reflect the changing nature of the historic environment as a result of new discoveries, designations, investigations, interpretations and changes in use, management or significance.

• There is a national register of heritage assets from 87  HERs

• 1,500,000 monuments are recorded

• Newly discovered heritage assets are being added at a rate of  2-5% per year

• 75% of HERs are accessible online

ii. Advise on the implementation of national planning guidance to sustain and enhance the significance and setting of local heritage assets

Local authority archaeological advisors advise on strategic development and local plans:

• They appraise land  proposed to be  allocated for development

• They ensure local plan  policies take a sustainable approach to the historic environment, and seek to exploit its contribution to creating growth, jobs  and local identity

• They advise and manage the archaeological implications of major infrastructure development and utilities

• They  trigger, where necessary, and review, environmental impact assessments

Local authority archaeological advisors advise planning authorities and developers on planning proposals that may  affect archaeological sites:

• Local authority archaeological advisors screen all development proposals

• Where necessary they require further archaeological information to enable sustainable planning decisions to be  made

• In some case they recommend archaeological conditions on planning permissions

• They advise developers on managing risk, e.g. from potential constraints caused by nationally important undesignated archaeological sites and/or human remains

• They encourage and help developers to create opportunities for community engagement

•  They provide advice that can  be  followed through to appeal if necessary

• In extreme cases they advise planning officers of the need for enforcement

iii. Monitor compliance with planning requirements including conditions on behalf of planning authorities

• Local authority archaeology advisors assess the standard of fieldwork and recording, normally specified to comply with  Institute for Archaeologists professional standards

• They monitor the quality of post excavation assessment, publication and archiving- to ensure that the results of work  are reported in the right way

• They promote broader public benefit through enhancing understanding and local engagement

iv.         Annual outputs

• Local authority archaeology advisors make 15,000 positive planning recommendations annually

•  This represents 3% of all planning applications

• Their  recommendations result in 5-6,000 archaeological, development-related projects annually, levering in over £100 million  of developer  (mainly private-sector) funding for new public understanding and appreciation of the past

• Where possible they help developers find  sustainable solutions that protect, or impact minimally, on those archaeological sites that are significant

• Of all the planning applications, only  100-150  are refused where archaeology is one of the reasons- usually because the development could not be  made sustainable or because more information is required

v. Advice on the management of the rural historic environment

lt is not only development that may  have an adverse impact on important archaeological sites and historic landscapes. The effects of agriculture on sites in the rural landscape can  result in severe damage and erosion, even to protected sites. Accordingly local authority advisers

• Provide advice to Natural England and Defra  on options for improving the management of archaeological sites, historic buildings and the wider historic landscape through agri­ environment schemes

• Through these schemes support environmentally sensitive farming and the income it brings to rural communities

vi. Community outreach and education

Local authorities are focuses of their communities, and local authority archaeology advisers respond to the strong community interest in local heritage by:

• Working with  all elements of the community to foster understanding of the historic environment

• Where resources permit, leading community-based projects to explore the local historic environment, and through this  contributing to skills development, learning and community cohesion

What it was like before 1990 and comprehensive local authority coverage?

Full coverage of local authority services was  achieved in 1989, a year before the publication of modern planning guidance on archaeology in 1990  (PPG 16, replaced by PPS5 in 20 10 and NPPF in 20 12).

• Before 1989,  most archaeological excavation was  publicly funded through central or local government: developer-funding was  entirely voluntary and almost exclusively restricted to London and a few  major developments in the South East of England

• There was  also  no formalised assessment of the impact of proposed development on archaeological remains, and therefore a high  proportion of developments affecting archaeological remains went ahead without any  protection or investigation

• There were fewer than 2,000  archaeological projects annually in 1989,  compared with  between 5000 and 6000 in 20 10, even though the number of planning applications was  roughly the same at the two  dates (500,000)

• Even as late as the mid-1980s, large infrastructure projects such as the M25 and almost all large housing developments had no proper archaeological provision

Precise estimates are difficult to make 25 years on,  but it is likely that 100,000 archaeological sites were destroyed without any record between 1950  and 1990- and the historic environment is that much the poorer for this.

New gaps in the system

In spite of the National Planning Policy Framework’s requirement for planning authorities to have access to a HER supported by expert advice, there has  been an  18% fall in staffing numbers within local authority archaeology services since 2008 – from 400  to 330 – and they continue to decrease at a steady rate of 3-4% per year.  As the economy recovers the construction sector will pick up and planning applications will increase, with  a growing demand for  archaeological advice. A crisis threatens within the next two  to three years. How big will it be,  where will it be and when will it happen? We are aware of the following problems;

• planning authorities without access to any  archaeological advice

• planning authorities with  limited access to archaeological advice, unable to cope with  current demand

• services under threat of closure

• services facing severe cuts that will leave them unable to meet future demand

What the consequences may be if we go back to the old days?

Although planning guidance makes good provision for  the protection and investigation of archaeological sites, it is of little  effect if there are no  archaeological advisors to ensure its implementation. Recent experience shows that when local authorities fail to identify the issues and make planning recommendations, the protection afforded to archaeology falls away quickly.

• Planning authorities lack the expert advice to distinguish between legitimate historic environment concerns and nimbyism, with  all the attendant risks and costs of challenges and disputes

• Developments that go ahead may  be  unsustainable in the terms of national planning policy

• Developers are placed at risk of inadvertently having to deal with  the conservation of important archaeological remains which have been revealed during the course of construction, when budgets and programmes have been set- delays and unnecessary costs loom, all the more so if human remains or nationally important sites are encountered

• The reputations of planning authorities are damaged

• Government could be challenged on its ability to meet obligations under the Valletta Convention (the  European convention on the  protection of the  archaeological heritage)

• Most importantly hundreds, maybe thousands, of archaeological sites are therefore potentially at risk annually as local  authorities without archaeologists give planning permission without any provision for investigation or other protection measures

This means that local communities and the nation lose  unique assets forever, irreplaceable information about our  past, and the opportunities to create developments that reflect the character of a place, enhance its appreciation- and add commercial value to the venture and surrounding businesses.

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9 Responses

  1. daosborne says:

    The PDF was copy-able on my Mac: I’ve saved the text in a rich text format file, which is usable in Word, etc., at
    A worrying document.
    David Osborne (MSc Archaeological Research, U of Nottingham)

  2. Rob Lennox says:

    Hi Henry,

    I shall be working with the Archaeology Forum to support this review and I’d like to state the positive case for the review and refute your interpretation that there is any pernicious underlying intent from government. This is a pragmatic consultation, launched at the urging of the sector, which aims to address issues with the loss of archaeological services in a way which might improve them, but conscious that there is no more money and that asking for it isn’t going to get us very far.

    With that in mind, other models for service provision are open for discussion. It might be time to consider whether we can productively adopt (or encourage) multilateral service sharing on a more widespread basis, or at at extreme, whether regional trusts might take over services as in Wales. It is unlikely that this government will impose any demands to this effect – that’s not its M.O with local services – but it might be convinced on the benefit of producing a national guidance document on how to best preserve these services. Of course the 2 example I give are off the top of my (considerably non-exert) head, neither of which is in any way prejudged as a preferred option.

    However, all of this is purely speculative, and where the review goes will depend upon the contributions given. The report will then go to the DCMS and the Minister will assess whether we have provided any agreeable options.The bottom line is that this is an opportunity for the sector to state its case in a positive way. I don’t think it is the place for hand-wringing or cynicism, and neither for asking for more resource, but it is the place to look at why we need these services, whether we still have the same values as we did 20 years ago, and whether we can make an active change for the better.

    I hope that in some way helps calm your concerns and that you will be submitting evidence documenting your experiences or opinions!

    All the best

    • Henry Rothwell says:

      Hi Rob – good for you.

      “. . . there is no more money and that asking for it isn’t going to get us very far.”
      The money is there, and publicly saying it isn’t, without qualification, will only hurt your case. For instance, Somerset & Devon County Councils are currently attempting to find members to staff the South West Heritage Trust – which has guaranteed funding of 10 million over five years –

      I tend not to wring my hands, and if I appear cynical, it’s perhaps a reflection of the fact that I keep myself well informed, and if I begin to see the usual pattern of publicly run services being transformed into privately owned assets (cut funding/break/sell), I’m happy to politely point it out.
      For an excellent and warranted example of cynical hand-wringing, may I recommend the following post?

      • Rob Lennox says:

        That there is plenty in this little archaeological sphere of ours to be cynical about I don’t deny (and as you rightly show, that’s what I do). However I should like to think that I recognise positive opportunity – and the sector didn’t get an opportunity like this during the NPPF drafting process. If I irk you with an unfortunate turn of phrase I apologise, but any reaction towards cynicism in this review is going to be entirely futile at best and damaging to our chances of getting anything good from this process at worst. I only wish to ensure that we get the best outcome possible!

        And on your point about money, perhaps I should say, regardless of whether there is any extra money, we’re not going to get any more than we have, and we may well have to survive with less. Such is the perogative of government, and at the moment and the political will to help archaeology is at a low ebb – the DCMS simply wouldn’t listen to calls for more money, so there’s no point in saying it at this juncture.

        Local authorities are, in various places, looking on archaeology services as soft targets, or not being politically damaging. We can counteract that at a grass roots level, and we can also seek to influence it at a national level through guidance or through the suggestion of ways to highlight the local benefits of those services and get a formal backing from government that they feel the same. I hope you can see the good in that!

        • Henry Rothwell says:

          “any reaction towards cynicism in this review is going to be entirely futile at best and damaging to our chances of getting anything good from this process at worst.”

          The sector has been given four weeks to consider and submit their suggestions, and been left to publicise this review and the call for submissions themselves. I’m sorry, who’s being cynical?

          The NPFF is an industry led wrecking ball of a policy, and in my mind this ‘review’ is the equivalent of asking someone to diagnose their own injuries and suggest the cheapest possible course of treatment, just after you’ve run them over.

          “And on your point about money, perhaps I should say, regardless of whether there is any extra money, we’re not going to get any more than we have, and we may well have to survive with less. Such is the perogative of government, and at the moment and the political will to help archaeology is at a low ebb – the DCMS simply wouldn’t listen to calls for more money, so there’s no point in saying it at this juncture.”

          You seem to be very emphatic about this point Rob. The jungle is echoing with the throb of drums.

          “We can counteract that at a grass roots level, and we can also seek to influence it at a national level through guidance or through the suggestion of ways to highlight the local benefits of those services and get a formal backing from government that they feel the same. I hope you can see the good in that!”

          I can, I really can. It sounds amazing. It almost sounds like what we had before.

          I get it Rob – I really do – and I applaud the fact that you’re trying to cheer us on – and I hope that your efforts to draw Mr. Vaizey’s attention to it work out for you –

          But please stop accusing me of cynicism. It’s one thing to recognise the benefits of a review that is being carried out *at our insistence and after the fact*, but cheerleading is just going to arouse people’s suspicions. For instance, when you say:

          “I shall be working with the Archaeology Forum to support this review. . .”

          Does that mean you have a specific role within this organisation or that you, like anyone else who has decided to participate, will be submitting your views? Because if it’s the former, I think in the interests of clarity you should say so. If it’s the latter, then you might want to think about rephrasing it to reflect your true situation.

          I also note that your own blog makes no mention of the review, but does include a post which makes your position clear. Maybe that’s where you should be stating your case?

          • Rob Lennox says:

            “The main thrust of this consultation appears to suggest that government archaeology services will soon be replaced with private ones. If I have utterly misunderstood this, then I apologise, and await correction.”

            There has been no suggestion that this is the Minister’s aim. You asked to be corrected. That was the reason for my posting here.

            “I shall be working with the Archaeology Forum to support this review”

            This was the first line of my response. I feel that this is a clear statement of my involvement. I have an interest in achieving a productive response from stakeholders in the sector. Trying to prevent misconceptions from permeating the blogosphere is.

            As for everything else, it will be welcomed in your response. I apologise for attracting you anger. This was not my intention.

  3. Henry Rothwell says:

    No worries Rob – I’m not angry at all. Perhaps I should work on my style.
    I don’t see that I have been corrected, but more that you have decided to deny that the suggestion has any merit at all, without any form of accompanying qualification.
    If you are serious about preventing ‘misconceptions from permeating the blogosphere’ then you should be clear about the level of your involvement – is yours a paid position, or voluntary?

  1. 11/02/2014

    […] 14th 2014. The text of the consultation, with some informative descriptive narrative, has been made available by Henry Rothwell so I shall point you towards the text and his commentary on it. In short, the Inquiry wishes to […]

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