The CBA Conservation Update for February this year made encouraging reading. Although most people suspect talk of a Big Society is Con-code for a Small State we agree with the CBA that it also has some very good elements (intended or not). We were particularly struck that CBA wanted to support local communities to become active stewards of their archaeological heritage and that they said whether it is monitoring a site at risk, campaigning to save a threatened local landmark or keeping an eye on the weekly planning lists, there are things that everyone can do.

Absolutely! Trouble is, that was in February. Since then the architects of the Big Society have served notice they intend it to operate in a brand new and unsuspected environment in which there is to be “a presumption in favour of sustainable development” and other coded removals of safeguards in the name of economic growth. (Anyone heard an independent economist say the key to growth is a planning free-for-all? Since California was settled anyway? Thought not!) The one certain effect, apart from releasing wonga by the building of executive homes in nice places, is that many of those “sites at risk” and “threatened local landmarks” will be even more at risk and even more threatened – presumably hundreds of them every year – so amateurs keeping an eye on the weekly planning lists will be the very sharp end of conservation action nationwide.

It seems likely that when the CBA said the means by which local people are informed and empowered had to change they were unaware of just how urgent that was about to become. A “How To” pack on how to challenge developers and very particularly to argue that monuments deserve contexts and that “sustainable development” shouldn’t simply mean “leaving them untouched but surrounded by lucrative housing” would probably be a great help towards conservation of heritage against a looming tsunami.

If you haven’t signed the National Trust’s Planning for People petition protesting against that looming tsunami please consider doing so. It’s here