Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. We would like to present evidence on the impacts of proposed planning reform on archaeology. Archaeology (the study of the material remains of the human past) contributes to sustainable development by ensuring that heritage assets reveal the information that they hold about the past when the assets themselves are destroyed by development. Archaeology is not simply a way to deal with the physical remains of the past, but also a way to influence and shape our understanding of people and places, now and for the future. Done well and done early in the process it contributes fundamentally to good placemaking.

We hope that the Committee will recognise the important impacts that the proposed planning reform could have on the historic environment – and specifically, on archaeology. We would be grateful for an opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee to help elucidate the issues described here.

About our organisations

The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) is the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK and overseas. CIfA promotes high professional standards and strong ethics in archaeological practice, to maximise the benefits that archaeologists bring to society.

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) is an educational charity and national amenity society with a leading role in championing the public interest in archaeology. CBA works throughout the UK to involve people in archaeology and to promote the appreciation and care of the historic environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO:UK) is the national body representing local government archaeology services at County, District, Metropolitan, Unitary and National Park authority level. These services provide advice to nearly all of the District, Unitary and other local government bodies in the country. It also forms the Special Interest Group for Archaeology for the Local Government Association.


  1. Is the current planning system working as it should do? What changes might need to be made? Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?

Archaeology has been part of the planning system for over 30 years, being recognised in the 1970s as a material consideration and formalised in planning guidance since 1990. A well-developed system of developer-funded archaeological assessment, mitigation and offsetting harms adds value to development and has transformed our understanding of the past through new discoveries.

Our planning system should put into practice our national commitment to the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised), Valetta 1992, (https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/143).The planning system provides the only effective protection and management for most heritage assets with archaeological interest, c 95% of which are non-designated (eg not Listed nor Scheduled).

This system operates on the principle that heritage assets are a public good and that where development threatens to harm these heritage assets they must be assessed, and approaches to avoiding, minimising, or offsetting harm put in place. At present, while a certain amount of assessment is carried out at the plan-making stage, the vast majority of the assessment/evaluation is undertaken at the development management stage and is funded by applicants. Wherever practicable heritage assets are preserved in situ; where not, if the assets are sufficiently significant, expert archaeological investigation increases and shares our knowledge of them, even though fabric is lost. Through this investigation, opportunities to add value to development through positive design changes to enhance sense of place and to engage local communities are often created. 

This approach is not cited as a reason for major delay by developers[1], nor is it identified as a factor preventing build-out rates[2],[3]. Archaeological interest is almost never a reason for refusal of a planning application (less than 0.01% of cases in 2018/19 list it among the reasons for rejection). In the vast majority of cases where archaeological works are required, they are affordable (c.1-2% of construction costs). It removes from the public purse most of the cost (£258m in 2019[4]) of safeguarding and unlocking a vital source for the history of our country.

Broadly, we feel that this system works. It is often underfunded and there have been occasional breakdowns in service delivery in local authorities due to budget cuts, but where funded adequately, archaeology contributes positively to the sustainability of development and does not harm the delivery of development. Every £1 spent on local authority archaeology services generates £15 for the economy and work associated with enhancing knowledge of the historic environment3.

To illustrate the positive impacts of existing planning regulations, in 2019 CIfA undertook research for Historic England which gathered extensive evidence from 118 case studies to illustrate key elements of current national planning policies relating to the historic environment[5].

There are, however, ways that this system could be improved. For example, the engagement of archaeological knowledge at a more strategic planning level could enable a clearer focus on research objectives and public benefit, and the development of advanced data management and modelling approaches could help to target and streamline what archaeological work is done. There are good examples and case studies from current practice and academic research to support this. Some aspects of the Government’s proposed system could provide an opportunity to develop these benefits if done correctly.

At present the white paper does not allow for these improvements and might remove archaeological safeguards in the current system, while also risking the late discovery of archaeological remains, and exposing the developer to additional costs, delays and reputational damage.

Without alternative measures at allocation stage, removing the requirement for developers to provide archaeological information in support of a planning application will lead to ill-considered permissions being granted. And because mechanisms are unspecified for site-specific mitigation and offsetting of harm to unexpected heritage assets which will inevitably be found, this could lead to a major retrograde step in safeguards for the historic environment, whilst increasing risk for developers.


  1. In seeking to build 300,000 homes a year, is the greatest obstacle the planning system or the subsequent build-out of properties with permission?

We are concerned by the Government’s characterisation of the problems of planning being related to over-regulation. For the historic environment, we are aware of no evidence that regulation to safeguard heritage assets is an obstacle to the delivery of homes.

The processes for early assessment of sites under the current planning system maximises opportunities to add value and character to development and minimises the risk of unexpected costs and delays to development. Developers generally seem happy with the certainty that the current process provides: the complaints that exist seem to arise either from a lack of resources in planning departments or poor explanation of the applicant’s responsibilities to the historic environment.


  1. How can the planning system ensure that buildings are beautiful and fit for purpose?

We know that recent evidence commissioned by government[6] has shown that development which is not subject to consideration by the planning system can deliver sub-standard outcomes.

To ensure buildings that are fit for purpose, the planning system must have influence over the location, type and technical standards of development to ensure that it is sustainable and in the long-term public interest. It must be able to require impact assessment for all relevant issues including environment (natural and historic), infrastructure, etc.

Archaeology could also do far more to help the 'build beautiful' agenda, contributing to placemaking and local distinctiveness if early engagement with specialists was enhanced. The planning system must have regard for all aspects of placemaking that influence how people interact with place. This extends beyond a narrow conception of ‘beauty’ as visual amenity and should include enhancing the significance of heritage assets, historic character, sense of place and local identity.


  1. What approach should be used to determine the housing need and requirement of a local authority?

No comment.


  1. What is the best approach to ensure public engagement in the planning system? What role should modern technology and data play in this?

We recognise the ambition to develop better ways of engaging the public in the planning system. We support mechanisms which help to stimulate early deliberative contributions to planning by communities and help to culture an enhanced understanding of place. Neighbourhood planning has the potential to yield this type of devolved power to communities and can be successful. Greater involvement of communities in the creation of design codes (where these are broad enough to consider historic character, sense of place, etc.) would also be potentially beneficial.

We also support the Government’s recently announced project to nominate heritage buildings of significant historical and cultural value to an area[7], which presents another opportunity to improve discussion of community heritage and place values and influence good development, although this should be broadened to include other non-built forms of heritage such as archaeological sites and monuments, where the positive and active management of these sites can contribute to sense of place and benefit communities.

It is also important to ensure that the specific impacts of development can be understood and that sufficient opportunity to comment on these impacts is retained within the development control process.


  1. How can the planning system ensure adequate and reasonable protection for areas and buildings of environmental, historical, and architectural importance?

The planning system must ensure that there is recognition that over 95% of heritage assets are non-designated and that assets occur in all places; from green belt to brownfield sites, urban and rural. The solution cannot be to draw lines arounds known assets and simply ‘protect’ them. Rather, they should be considered as part of development – as assets that can enhance, and be enhanced by, good development which takes account of heritage significance and unlocks its substantial potential for public benefit.

In addition, our knowledge of heritage assets is always evolving. In the case of buried archaeological heritage, much of what exists is currently unknown or unrecorded. These assets will occur in areas which are suitable for growth and renewal, and therefore even the most permissive regimes must allow for the appropriate handling of new discoveries.

In order to do this, any automatic or streamlined consent processes will require:

a)      a process for up-front assessment of the historic environment by LPAs, supported by improved baseline data, to inform the allocation of development areas.

b)      that areas allocated for growth should have any known archaeological interest (including ‘known unknowns’) clearly set out in local plans, to inform developers of the likely need for mitigation or offsetting, and create opportunities for positive enhancement and wider public benefits. Where there is limited flexibility in development layout, the process may need to include field evaluation of archaeologically sensitive sites prior to allocation.

c)       a robust system for investigating and mitigating impact on heritage assets at reserved matters stage.

The archaeological sector has discussed and is proposing various options for how this could be realistically achieved. For example;


  1. What changes, if any, are needed to the green belt?

No comment.


  1. What progress has been made since the Committee’s 2018 report on capturing land value and how might the proposals improve outcomes? What further steps might also be needed?

It is beyond our expertise to advise in detail on methods to improve land value capture outcomes, but additional mechanisms that enable charges to be levied on those landowners in line for significant uplift within a system of ‘development areas’ could go a long way to securing the necessary up-front archaeological assessment needed to provide automatic outline consent or streamline application processes.

The more information that can be obtained up-front, the better directed developers can be towards what development would be acceptable and the easier and more certain the process will be. Unfortunately, this information does not exist as baseline data. Land value capture could solve this problem while enabling the proposed zonal approach to deliver quicker, more certain, but still sustainable, development.


October 2020


[1] Cornerstone Projects Ltd, Delays in Construction Projects (2017)

[2] Letwin, O. Independent Review of Build Out: Final Report (2018)

[3] Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), Archaeology in Development Management (2019), p.16

[4] State of the Archaeological Market Survey Report, 2019 (2020)

[5] Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) Archaeology and Planning Case Studies Project (2019)

[6] Clifford, et. al, Quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights (2020)

[7] MHCLG Press Release, Communities Secretary launches 'most ambitious heritage preservation campaign for 40 years' (2020)