Of national importance: recognising significance for planning

Posted on August 31, 2015


Videos from the CIfA conference in Cardiff:

Organiser(s): Deborah Williams, Paul Jeffery and Carrie Cowan, Historic England

The National Importance Programme has been set up by Historic England with ALGAO and DCMS to explore, via a series of pilot projects, how we might help Local Authority historic environment services to create a shared mechanism to identify non-scheduled but nationally important archaeological sites.
In the face of on-going and future economic cuts, our session explores how Historic England might help Local Authority archaeologists in the identification of nationally important undesignated sites. The NPPF is a key driver for archaeologists to explore differing levels of significance and direct our resources to sites of the greatest significance. Can we reach parts of the historic environment which have not been designated for whatever reason in this Programme, such as sites without structures, landscapes and town centres?

The session will include papers reporting on the findings of the pilots.

Introduction to ‘Of National Importance: Recognising Significance for Planning’

Deborah Williams, Historic England

The National Planning Policy Framework states that ‘non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest that are demonstrably of equivalent significance to scheduled monuments, should be considered subject to the policies for designated heritage assets’ (para 139).
Given the desire for as much clarity as possible about significance, there is a need for a better understanding of how such sites are identified, who identifies them, where they are recorded and how such information is accessed. The Introduction will explain the background to the National Importance Programme and the pilot projects.

Identifying and mapping lithic sites of national importance

Anthony Dickson, Oxford Archaeology North

The paper presents the results of one of the commissioned pilot projects in the National Importance Programme. The project proposed Cumbria as the principal area of study and East Anglia as a comparator, where a selection of each area’s lithic resource, including extraction sites, could be assessed in regard to the main aims and objectives of the Programme. To that end a desk-based investigation and consultation was designed to identify and characterise the lithic resources, to examine how lithic sites are presently ascribed national importance, and whether this is sufficient to afford protection to the resource.

Drawing on available information from published sources, such as the relevant English Heritage Scheduling Selection Guides, the project considered approaches to identifying significance for designation purposes and examined whether the existing guidelines provided an adequate framework for such. The study was predicated, out of necessity, on known sites, but also considered mechanisms for identifying, characterising, defining and classifying further artefact scatters and sites.

The presentation will briefly discuss the results of the project case studies, the problems and issues that arose from the case studies in relation to designating lithic sites as nationally important and outline the main themes discussed in response to those. It will also outline the recommendations and conclusions.

Identifying and mapping sites of national importance in wetland environments in East Sussex

Carl Champness, Oxford Archaeology South

The paper presents the results of one of the commissioned pilot projects in the National Importance Programme. East Sussex was selected because it is facing new challenges following the recent discovery of wetland sites of national importance, but which may not be scheduled under the terms of the 1979 Act and would be termed ‘sites without structures’. The area has a large wetland and coastal resource rich in heritage assets, including significant collections of early prehistoric, medieval and military sites associated with former coastal areas.

The project develops various themes and builds on previous work undertaken by OA and others in East Sussex, discussing techniques for identifying, mapping, recording and predicting sites of national importance, specifically relating to wetland sites and sequences within East Sussex. The study advocates a landscape approach to protection rather than the current protection of individual sites.

Many of these wetland sites were found to fall inside areas of existing wetland or former marshes, with the vast majority either being protected as SSSI or under other agri-environmental schemes. With one or two exceptions very few of these sites are currently threatened by development pressure but are under increasing pressure from changing land-use management strategies, associated with flood risk measures and habitat enhancement schemes. Through greater predictive mapping and understanding of heritage assets within wetland sequences it is hoped to offer better alert heritage mapping to help share, and inform land management strategies, which will bring benefits to both the natural and historic environment.

Planning matters

Tim Howard, CIfA

The Town and Country Planning regime provides the only effective management and protection for the vast majority of the historic environment which is undesignated and includes many nationally important sites.

This paper considers how nationally important undesignated sites are considered and protected in the planning system, looking, in particular, at
• the principles which allow such assets to be considered in the planning process including the continuing development of archaeological significance as a material consideration
• the mechanisms available in that process to manage and protect such sites and to advance understanding of their significance. These include local plan policies, local lists, EIA, planning conditions and obligations and Article 4 and Article 7 Directions
• the shortcomings in those mechanisms and the continuing threat to undesignated assets, for instance, from the continuing desire to streamline the planning process (as illustrated by the remorseless extension of permitted development rights) combined with an enervating lack of resource
• the scope for improvements in the system. Do we need new tools such as archaeological conservation areas or a new approach to the use of what we already have?

National importance at the landscape scale: a pilot study from the Yorkshire Dales National Park

Jim Brightman, Solstice Heritage & Yorks Dales NP

The paper details the results of one of the commissioned pilot studies in the National Importance Programme: examining the issues surrounding landscape-scale sites in rural areas in which a key contributing factor to national importance is often the proximity and coherence of many individual sites across a large but definable area. Such sites may be broadly single period, such as coherent field systems or industrial complexes, or be a palimpsest of different periods comprising layered cultural landscapes.

The pilot project imagined an idealised workflow for addressing the issues of landscape-scale, nationally important, non-designated sites (NI sites) broadly divided into processes relating to:

• Identification
• Characterisation
• Delineation
• Data management
• Conservation management

The paper will discuss the issues identified with each of these phases, principally in reference to previous and extant systems of heritage management at a landscape scale, and illustrated with case studies drawn from the Yorkshire Dales National Park study area.

During the course of the pilot project it became clear that there were a series of key issues to be addressed in terms of landscape-scale NI sites, and the paper will present a number of these for discussion, including: the essential desirability or otherwise of delineating ‘archaeological landscapes’ and the wider effects of that decision on landscapes outside the delineated areas; the extent to which the outcomes of previous projects (e.g. HLC or the discontinued Monuments Protection Programme) can be used to drive the National Importance Programme; and the challenges of proactive conservation management on a landscape scale where sites can often cover several different landowners/landscape types/land management regimes.

Assessing and mapping significant heritage assets in a medieval university city of Oxford

David Radford, Oxford City Council

The paper presents the results of a pilot project in the National Importance Programme looking at the problems of assessment and definition of potentially nationally important assets in an urban context where there is considerable development pressure driven by both economic growth and international competition within the higher education sector. Notably in Oxford’s case the restrictions posed by a concern for the settings of designated buildings combined with growing pressure for new college and university facilities has created a strong trend towards basement construction within the constrained historic core.

The project was undertaken by Oxford Archaeology in partnership with the Oxford City Council planning archaeologist and looked at a number of case studies from Oxford. The process involved both looking back at recently excavated sites to review the validity of previous assessments in the light of excavated evidence (for example the Radcliffe Infirmary Burial Ground and the linear barrow cemetery at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter) and also the assessments of remaining assets, which vary in terms of the quality of available deposit model data and the precision of site/asset definition. The issues of cumulative impact and the assessment of piecemeal development within an extensive ‘city’ asset will be considered and linked to recent and forthcoming development sites.



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