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by Sandy Gerrard

In Scheduling – Part 5 English Heritage kindly provided a response to a number of points raised in previous articles.  This week I would like to focus on one particularly important issue raised by their response.

Previously English Heritage wrote:

While scheduling is, was and will remain an important way of protecting archaeological sites, there are other ways of protecting archaeology beyond designation. The partnership of local authorities and communities is crucial to the protection of sites through local schemes of designation and recognition of importance. Such local schemes are often the only viable solution to the protection of archaeological sites discovered as a consequence of the development / planning system, of which only a small number of such sites have ever been suitable for inclusion on the schedule.

There have always been other mechanisms to ensure the protection of archaeological sites and indeed conversely there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the demise of some sites may have been hastened by their scheduling. Many sites have been successfully safeguarded using the types of measures referred to and in particular one thinks of organisations such as the National Trust, Forest Enterprise and National Parks who have certainly contributed to the protection and enhancement of many important sites. However, national recognition and legal protection are very important markers to decision makers whose archaeological expertise is often minimal. How many times have we heard local authority planners dismiss sites as unimportant simply because they are not scheduled? When Joe Flatman was County Archaeologist in Surrey did he ever wish that certain assets on his patch were scheduled? Scheduling is a clear steer to local and national planners that either an individual or collection of sites are particularly important and as such deserve full consideration and respect.Conversely undesignated assets   may be regarded as being of less importance and therefore more expendable. In the complex world of ever evolving policy guidelines, notes and directives it is easy to overlook or underestimate the importance of even the most remarkable undesignated assets. The significance of heritage and the levels of protection it is offered within the real world is something that is becoming increasingly clear and relevant.  The presence of ‘heritage’ is being used to influence all sorts of planning decisions.

Recently EH were asked to enhance the National List for Upton Cressett, Shropshire.  A request to update the designation regimes within the area was precipitated by a proposed wind farm and as a result three listings and three schedulings were rapidly generated. This type of response was one that I advocated in a letter to “British Archaeology” and I was delighted to learn of it. Furthermore, by taking this action EH is making a stance and saying these heritage assets are nationally important and should be given full consideration in any forthcoming planning application.  In similar situations inadequate national protection regimes or local schemes of designation and recognition are hardly likely to carry any weight when considered alongside conflicting key strategic national policies without the further intervention of the National body responsible for their ultimate protection. The suggestion that nationally important archaeology which benefits from only local recognition and safeguards is going to be positively recognised and afforded protection by a decision making process that involves key national policies – which by their nature might bring about its damage or destruction – when the body which exists to provide such protection has failed to do so is optimistic to say the least. EH’s actions at Upton Cresset suggest they recognise that national importance needs to be expressed by designation.  The inhabitants certainly believe that formal recognition of national importance means that their heritage is more likely to be taken seriously in the future planning debates.  Surely it is time that EH accepts that they have a key role to play in safeguarding the most important sites and stop hiding behind the idea that most of them can be looked after by other organisations?

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[For other articles  in the series put Scheduling in the search box]

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