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by Sandy Gerrard
According to the Scottish Government the economic impact of the historic environment to the Scottish economy is £2.3 billion annually. I am not sure how the figure was calculated but it must have some basis in fact. Heritage is important for a whole lot of reasons but we now know that it also has a monetary value as well.
It therefore follows that any loss of heritage costs us all real money as well as opportunities. This should surely be taken into account when decisions regarding heritage are taken. The British Isles has a fantastic range of distinctive archaeological and architectural heritage which underpins our cultural identity and also helpfully ticks the money earner box.
We should take care of this golden goose and give heritage the protection it deserves. A healthy society appreciates its past, thrives on the present and plans sensitively for the future.
There was an interesting statement by a planning inspector recently:
“The information submitted in support of the application includes reference to an annual financial contribution (£3,000), being made available from the income generated by the proposed wind turbine, for community projects.
Even if this was a matter that I could properly consider there is no mechanism in place to secure any such payment. I have not therefore taken it into account in determining the appeal.”
It seems the reason he ignored the “community bribe” was that there was no mechanism to guarantee it would be paid – but if there had been we can be pretty confident he would have been influenced by it. Such payments are commonplace these days and since the basis of decisions is to balance damage with public benefit, inspectors can hardly not take them into account. So if you’re a cynic (which some of us realists are accused of being) you could say that if you have deep enough pockets you can buy the democratic decisions you desire. Indeed, you could claim the situation is unchanged since the era of the Rotten Boroughs where you could pay locals to vote for you. In planning terms it’s a case of “have money, can develop” and we can all point to likely instances of that.
There’s a major defect in the thinking though. Yes, the locals might get a new Community Hall if a development goes ahead – which is a great benefit from the local perspective but what about the national perspective? Is damage to a nationally important scheduled monument made more acceptable nationally by the fact some locals at say, Upton Snodsbury, will be able to have their barn dances without the roof leaking? Probably not!
In addition of course, some incentives aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. Four years ago the northern setting of Avebury’s henge was badly damaged by a housing development…..
…… amid talk that the locals would at least be compensated by the provision of affordable housing elsewhere in the area, which would mean young people needn’t leave the village. Anyone seen those?
by Sandy Gerrard
The Planning Inspectorate in Wales has recently rejected an application to erect three wind turbines at Bedlinog on the edge of an area containing a large number of multi-period archaeological sites. Most significantly the main reason given for the decision is the impact the development would have had on the historic environment. Indeed this concern is eloquently expressed so: “the introduction of very large modern moving structures into a landscape which had not significantly changed since the pre-industrial age would cause significant and extensive harm.”
Hooray. The landscape that is going to be protected is very similar in character to the one at Mynydd y Betws. Essentially it is a multi-period palimpsest some of which is scheduled. There are however also some important differences:
> The nearest scheduled site would have been 570m from a turbine rather than the 72m at Mynydd y Betws
> Three turbines were proposed rather than fifteen.
> The turbines were to be built on enclosed land near to the moorland rather than on the moorland itself.
> The turbines were to be built to one side of the archaeology rather than in its midst.
When the Planning Inspectorate considered the Mynydd y Betws proposal, where the impact of the proposed scheme was considerably more intrusive and damaging to the historic environment than at Bedlinog they stated:
“The turbines would be large man made features of far greater scale than anything which currently exists. However they would be, if allowed, by their nature a temporary feature with a permission for 25 years.”
“the effect on the setting of those Monuments within the site, whether they are burial cairns or more recent upland farmsteads, would not be unacceptably harmful.”
Hopefully this radical change of heart means that in just a few short years and on the back of the lessons learnt at Mynydd y Betws the desecration of irreplaceable archaeological landscapes is no longer to be tolerated. Certainly this decision should help those fighting to safeguard our heritage and should be warmly welcomed by everyone with an interest in our uplands.
Remember “Cider with Rosie no more?” last year? As we said at the time: “If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that building 150 new houses at the entrance to the Slad Valley near Stroud in Gloucestershire would be one of the most vandalistic actions that could be committed in the whole of rural England. Not just because it is an incomparable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also because it was immortalised by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie”.
Well, just sometimes in this game things go right, money doesn’t win, the community does and it looks as if it’s happened there. “Only a bit of pottery” had been found in the developers’ trial trench, they announced to the world, carefully avoiding the fact they were keen to drive their greedy bulldozers straight into the spirit of a jewel of English literature. Stroud District Council told them to go to Hell or something like that but more polite. Undeterred, they appealed but now it has just been announced the appeal has been dismissed by a planning inspector!
Celebrations to mark the centenary of Laurie Lee’s birth have been just been taking place and this news has come as an ideal climax. In the words of Andy Dickinson of the Slad Valley Action Group, it was a “fabulous result” and “gives us real hope to preserve the valley for the future.”
If you’re in a Planning Department and you’re going to let a utility company dig up a probable archaeological site without making provision for an archaeological watching brief, it’s best not to do it at the end of the street in which the Director of the Council for British Archaeology lives. The danger being, he might trudge home after a long, hot day in the office and spot some pottery and the fragments of a Roman era leg bone and a jawbone with teeth in it lying on a pile of soil… Which is exactly the nightmare that happened recently up in in York !
Dr Heyworth said the incident shows up the “black holes” that are appearing in local authority archaeology services, with planners taking decisions without any specialist advice. He notified both the police to inform them that human remains had been discovered and the local authority, and work has now been suspended while an archaeologist investigates the site.
The worrying aspect is that not every street has a Dr Heyworth living in it so it’s a moot point how many similar issues go unnoticed up and down the country. Coincidentally, EH has just revealed that the number of archaeological specialists in local authorities has declined by 9.5% in the past year. The full report is HERE.
For years the Government has facilitated the targeting of large areas of green space (including heritage site settings) for housing development on the basis that there is insufficient usable brownfield land. (Many people suspect that the real reason has more to do with the “advice” they’ve been getting from the big builders who coincidentally can make far bigger profits by building in picturesque locations. Who knows)
Lately the Government seems to be coming round to the idea that there ARE such sites but it remains vague about how many. Now the CPRE has launched an interesting campaign to establish and demonstrate to them just how many usable yet undeveloped brownfield sites and buildings are going to waste across England. As they put it: “ever helpful, we want to show them just how much potential there is”. Accordingly they’re asking the general public to nominate suitable brownfield sites that may have been overlooked in official plans and submit them for inclusion in the CPRE’s ‘WasteOfSpace’ map of England.
If you know of one (or more!) please send them a photo, ideally with a short description and an address or postcode. You can send the image by:
- emailing email@example.com
- tweeting @CPRE with the campaign hashtag #WasteOfSpace
- posting to the Facebook group #WasteOfSpace
The heritage group who want to protect Liverpool’s famous “Welsh Streets” area has been accused by the City Council’s barrister of triggering a public inquiry by exaggerating evidence!
Yes, you read it right, a lawyer made the accusation. A member of the profession whose whole raison d’être is to present a case in the best possible light on behalf of anyone that will pay them – in other words, exaggerate, understate or spin it in whichever direction is desired. Not through conviction but for money! Faking it for cash, like a certain older profession.
Still, if the Law Society has decreed that the adversarial system is no longer appropriate and their members must now speak the unspun truth then hurrah, planning matters will be a lot simpler to decide and there’ll be no need for pesky members of the public to get involved as justice will invariably be well served. Suddenly…. the noise from wind farms will no longer be always represented as somewhere between “minimal” and “acceptable”, housing developments will no longer be presented as attempts to bring unalloyed joy to the locals, developers will cease to be characterised as selfless community workers or patriots, nimbies will cease to be reviled as selfish, petty and anti-British and buffer zones will no longer be seen as too large however tiny they are. And heritage groups won’t be painted as somehow irresponsible for triggering something as unnecessary and awful as a public inquiry into a city council’s plan to demolish 271 homes!
And of course, lawyers will work for nothing and on the basis of sincere conviction. Like members of heritage groups!
From The South Wales Guardian:
See more here
After a long legal tussle it has finally been settled: a 1,000-cow ‘super-dairy’ CAN be built within the settings of Offa’s Dyke and other important heritage assets. An original approval was overturned by a planning inspector, mainly on the basis it would cause “considerable harm” to the landscape and the setting of heritage assets. But that in turn was overruled by the Welsh ministers on the grounds that the economic advantages of the scheme were compelling. Now The High Court has upheld the Welsh government’s decision, ruling that they had not failed to pay ‘special regard’ to the impact that the development would have on heritage assets and had taken relevant considerations into account in deciding that priority should be given to the economic benefits of the scheme.
No problem with that per se. Sometimes developers must win else the country would grind to a halt. But note, the system merely requires that the Government ministers should take all relevant considerations into account, not that in mulling them over they can’t be biased in favour of development. Indeed, there’s a presumption in favour of it.
But has that been taken to extreme? Is there anything to stop the degree of bias running out of control? Well, as mentioned yesterday, according to the CPRE, in the past year more than two thirds of major housing developments turned down by local councils and taken to appeal were eventually approved. How come, ref? Shouldn’t decisions go fifty-fifty? Are Heritage United being treated unfairly despite a rule book that gives the impression they aren’t?
We’ve just received the latest newsletter of The Campaign to Protect Rural England in which they outline their efforts to protect the Countryside from the dash for economic growth.
Thanks to you and to thousands of others, we now have over 22,500 signatures in support of our Charter to Save our Countryside. People have been spreading the word among their friends to help demonstrate the strength of public concern for the countryside they love. Our Charter promotes the reuse of brownfield land before building on open countryside, giving people a fair say in planning for the places where they live, and providing the housing we need but in the right places.
It’s been over two years since the Government introduced major reforms to planning. Right from the start we warned that the changes gave too much weight to pursuing economic growth regardless of the long term environmental consequences. We warned that they would result in more badly located and designed development, harming the countryside and undermining the regeneration of our towns and cities. Our fears have been realised. Our latest research has revealed 700,000 houses planned in the countryside – including almost 200,000 allocated for the Green Belt. Thousands of acres of green fields could be lost. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, at least two thirds of major housing developments turned down by local councils and taken to appeal were approved by the Secretary of State or Government Planning Inspectors – double the number of appeals granted in the previous year.
Please help us stop this needless destruction. We’re campaigning to persuade the Government to make the development of brownfield land in our towns a priority before building on open countryside.