The British Archaeological Trust
15a Bull Plain, Hertford,Hertfordshire SG14 1DX
The National Planning Policy Framework:A Statement by RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust.
Today’s publication of the National Planning Policy Framework brings to an end 22 years of separate archaeological guidance within the planning system. First through PPG16, and latterlythrough PPS5, archaeology has been one of the various material considerations required of adeveloper when they are submitting an application. Part of the system maybe, but strangelyperipheral in many ways.The NPPF changes this: the Government’s framework brings together what they consider to be theprinciple keystones of sustainable planning and development into a single integrated format. Itshould be gratifying for all who work within the heritage profession to note that, finally, the historicenvironment has taken its place at the top table alongside the natural environment, transportation,climate change and all the other central pillars that support sensible planning policy.The inclusion of the historic environment within the core provisions of planning policy should be toits advantage. It is no longer remotely justifiable for local authorities to claim that historicenvironment planning advice services are superfluous, disposable, or in some way luxurious. Thereis a clear need now for the profession to lobby for an effective network of statutory teams of localauthority advisors, specialist in their knowledge of archaeology, historic buildings and heritagelandscapes. This should be the central aim for the archaeological sector from this point on, and wemust aim to achieve it within the life of this Government.Unfortunately, this is where the positives come to an end. The NPPF represents a weakened policyprovision for the Historic Environment. Its emphasis on designated features belies the fact that thevast majority of the country’s archaeological sites and a great many valued historic structuresremain undesignated. Despite years of evidence there still remains inadequate recognition of theoverwhelming positives that regeneration of the historic environment can bring to local communities,or the value that communities place on their local historic environment. Indeed, the statementregarding “the desirability of new development making a positive contribution to local character anddistinctiveness” (paragraph 126) represents the very opposite of what sustainable development andthe historic environment is about.Disappointingly also, much of the unsatisfactory structure of PPS5 survives within the newFramework. The profession and the planning system must continue to struggle with the lamentableterminology of “heritage assets” - within a framework that now obviously considers much of our historic environment to be a liability – whilst the highly subjective concepts of “significance” and“advancing understanding” remain. The Government have clearly intended that the broad principlesof PPS5 should survive within this document, for which the profession should be grateful. It ishowever a real frustration that they have not seized the opportunity to eradicate some of its moreconfusing language.Overall this policy framework does not serve the concerns of the historic environment particularlywell. The usual protocol upon publication of such documents is to give a cautious welcome to thenew policy provisions and look forward to implementing their provisions effectively in the future.Sadly, RESCUE is unable to commit to either of these protocols in this instance. The publication of the NPPF seems likely to signal the start of a new round of debate and argument over the value weplace on our heritage and its role in the rejuvenation of the national economy.
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