Sunday, 12 July 2015

Brownfield sites, Old Oswestry and planning challenges

The problem for archaeology in England is that with the exemption of the Scheduled Monuments the value of archaeology is not really enshrined in law as it is in many other European countries (and actually Scotland, too). The status of archaeology is dependent on planning guidance - and this can be changed with the whim of any government. Relatively recently in 2012 the guidance did change from the Planning Practice Guidance note 16 (PPG16) to the National Planning Policy Framework - together with the government stating that the planning proposals must be accepted if they promote growth and development. This has made opposing not so clever developments - like the ones planned onto the floodplain plus adding to the dire traffic conditions during the rush hour in our village - very difficult. The local councils can just demand restrictions and different work, such as archaeological surveys, trial digs and excavations to be carried out, if required. Not to mention all other kinds of matters related to contamination levels, drainage, local amenities, such as money for school expansion etc. etc.

The Planning Guidance now presents archaeologists with a true challenge in the case of Old Oswestry. In the new Shropshire Council’s Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev) Plan does contain a series of new developments nibbing into the surrounding countryside around this most beautiful of the Iron Age hillforts. In addition, the words 'and their setting' has been quietly dropped from the conditions and statements into the significance of different heritage assets. As we landscape archaeologists know, it is not just the site itself, but its context that is important. The Council for British Archaeology has luckily been stepping in to the campaign to try to keep Old Oswestry and its setting intact, so that the future generations can marvel it without houses a few hundred meters apart. Luckily, the hillfort has many friends such as Rescue.

Another clear threat to archaeology - at least industrial archaeology - is the suggestion of the automatic planning approval for all brownfield site proposals. This was cunningly communicated on a Friday, so any opposing stakeholders could only log in their concern later during the day - or during the night. At least they are not eroding greenfield sites automatically, but with the brownfield sites there is the additional issue of contamination. I just hope that the overstretched planning departments will spot the dangerous levels of industrial chemicals, so one does not end up having whole communities placed on top of rubbish and endangering the future generations. Alongside potentially rubbishing the past.

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