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Ministers insist new bill won’t curtail archaeological activity

Published: Thursday, 16th June 2016

Petition sparked by fears that the neighbourhood planning and infrastructure bill will curtail the use of planning conditions requiring archaeological surveys…

The government has insisted that measures in its yet-to-be published flagship neighbourhood planning and infrastructure bill will not curtail the use of planning conditions requiring archaeological surveys.

That’s the fear of some conservation and archaeological interests and professionals. This concern triggered a petition which generated 17,553 on-line signatories.

In a response the Department for Communities and Local Government said the administration “actively supports the use of planning conditions where necessary to protect the wider social, cultural and environmental benefits that conservation of the historic environment can bring.”

Ministers acknowledged that the bill would introduce a power designed to ensure that “pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary”. However, the department was adamant that this would not mean the curtailment of conditions requiring archaeological excavations.

That interpretation “does not accurately represent the government's intention” said a statement from DCLG.

“The proposed power is to help address the urgent need to tackle the overuse of 'pre-commencement' conditions which prevent development, including new homes, from starting until the local planning authority has approved certain details.

“The measure will not restrict the ability of local planning authorities to propose conditions that are necessary.

“This will maintain appropriate protections for important matters such as heritage, as well as human health, the natural environment, green spaces, and measures to mitigate the risk of flooding.”

The statement went on: “We are not proposing that all pre-commencement conditions are removed; only that they are used proportionately and provide the applicant with an opportunity to agree to them before they are attached to planning permission.”

The department stressed: “The National Planning Policy Framework remains unchanged in that it requires developers to record and advance understanding of the significance of any heritage assets to be lost (wholly or in part) in a manner proportionate to their importance and the impact, and to make this evidence (and any archive generated) publicly accessible.”

Ministers said they valued the petition in highlighting the importance of archaeology and promised to “engage fully with the sector during the passage of the bill and beyond.”

Roger Milne