Pre-Planning Application archaeological investigation schemes

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), updated in July 2018, sets the ground rules (if you’ll pardon the pun) for the need for archaeology in the pre-planning application submission process.

If you would like to read the information for yourself, please visit the following link and read Section 16:

» Paragraph 189

This paragraph states “In determining applications… Where a site on which development is proposed includes, or has the potential to include, heritage assets with archaeological interest, local planning authorities should require developers to submit an appropriate desk-based assessment and, where necessary, a field evaluation.

» So do I really need to undertake a desk-based assessment?

Now in the north east of England, a lot of desk-based research has already been done. As standard these studies cover 1km radius from the target site and as such sites in the vicinity of developments that have already been subject to scrutiny a survey has often already been carried out that covers the target site. Due to NPPF paragraph 189 it is often assumed that a desk-based assessment will be automatically required, but such a study should only be undertaken on the direct instruction of the Local Authority Archaeologist, otherwise work could be duplicated and the developer’s money wasted.

» The Local Authority Archaeologist has told me I need to do a desk-based assessment…

Okay, so if this is the case then your development hasn’t already been covered by a previous project – unlucky. A desk-based assessment (DBA for short) is essentially a fact finding project that assesses everything known about your site, including its potential for previously unknown archaeology or heritage assets. This includes trips to the local record offices, information from the Historic Environment Record (HER), study of aerial photography, LIDAR data and despite the name of the project type, a field trip to visually examine your development. Once completed you submit the report to the Local Authority who will then make the decision if evaluation is required. Please click the button below to find our more about DBAs:

» I’ve been told I need to have an evaluation done – what does this mean?

Archaeological evaluation simply means that the Local Authority require a hole or holes dug to a detailed specification to physically prove the presence of (or lack of) archaeology in the development area. Evaluations must be undertaken by professional and competent archaeologists as the report detailing the work will likely have a big impact on the planning process.

Evaluations usually take the form of a test-pitting or trenching exercise depending on the nature of the proposed development. For example, a new play ground being built over a known archaeological site may only require hand-dug test pits where the new slide or swings are going to go, whereas a house build may require long machine-dug trenches, with the latter usually covering between 3 and 10% of the development area depending on the Local Authority. These trenches are excavated by machine down to the top of the first archaeological layer, or the top of the undisturbed ‘natural’ geology. The trenches are then cleaned by hand and recorded (even if there’s nothing in them).

In some cases, evaluation may take the form of geophysical survey, which essentially scans beneath the surface of the ground and logs potential archaeological remains. This method is often used to help locate evaluation trenches.

Once the evaluation report has been submitted and the evidence assessed, the Local Authority may decide to impose conditions on your planning application which legally have to be met if you go ahead with your development. For more information on planning application archaeological conditions, please see our Planning Condition: Archaeological Schemes page.

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Know the facts

… I’ve been told that now I’ve had an evaluation done and I’ve found archaeology, I’m legally obliged to have the whole site investigated. Is this true?

The answer is simple. If you go ahead with the development then yes, you will be legally obliged to undertake any mitigation archaeology that the Local Authority requires. However, if at the post-evaluation stage you decide not to go ahead with the development scheme you’ll not legally required to undertake any further work barring that required by the evaluation.

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If you're at PRE-APP stage and have advice from your Local Authority that an archaeological project is required to inform your application, we can help.

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Archaeological schemes of work are required when development takes place within the boundary of a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM). Please click the button below to see how we can help.

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The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allows Local Authorities to designate buildings as non-designated heritage assets. If you're working on such a building, its likely you'll need an archaeologist to undertake a recording scheme.

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If you're a community group or charity looking for advice or to take part in (or set up) an archaeological project (or for any other archaeological works not planning-related), we can help.

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