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Managing Historic Environment Project Risk as part of Successful Developments

At several recent networking and trade events, AB Heritage has had the pleasure of speaking with planners, architects, developers and their agents, who were attracted by our photographs of archaeological excavations and historic maps but were quick to emphasise that the appeal was ‘personal interest’ rather than in any professional capacity. During our conversations about the role of AB Heritage in the construction industry it became clear to many that the services and products we provide would benefit their company and / or a particular project they were working on – not just because it ‘sounds interesting’ but because the protection of the historic environment is underpinned by legislation and ignoring the potential risks of encountering heritage issues on a site could lead to costly delays to the project programme and even in a few cases, prosecution.

Heritage Legislation

When progressing any development, the first step is to understand the key legalisation covering the Historic Environment in the UK.

In relation to archaeology, the backbone of legislation is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This provides for the legal protection of important and well-preserved archaeological sites and monuments through their addition to the Government’s ‘schedule’ of archaeological monuments. The Act empowers Local Authorities to require that developers investigate any site ‘that contains or [and this is the key part] is likely to contain anything of archaeological of historic interest which will be disturbed, damaged, destroyed or removed without proper archaeological investigation if operations are carried out on the site. Such remains, where they survive, may then be scheduled for statutory protection should they be of national significance or, more often, mitigated to enable development.

Likewise, structures are afforded legal protection through their addition to ‘lists’ of buildings of special architectural or historical interest. The listing of buildings is carried out by the Government’s DMCS Department under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, 1990. The main purpose of the legislation is to protect buildings and their surroundings from changes that would materially alter the special historic or architectural value of the building, or its setting. This necessitates the granting of formal Listed Building Consent for all works undertaken to or within the designated curtilage of a Listed Building. This legislation also allows for the creation and protection of Conservation Areas by local planning authorities to protect areas and groupings of historical significance.

Further categories of heritage assets with consideration in planning have been extended in recent years, and now includes Registers for Parks and Gardens, and Historic Battlefields; while these forms of heritage asset are not statutorily protected by designation, registration is a ‘material consideration’ in the planning process. A very similar situation pertains to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and their settings – though these usually contain one or more designated Heritage Asset.

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Revised in 2018, NPPF is the Government’s planning policies for England. Section 16 details the protections afforded to heritage assets and their settings:

In determining applications, local planning authorities should require an applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting… 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.’

The early bird catches the worm!

Early consultation is paramount for successful management of a site with built heritage or archaeological constraints. Engaging with recognised heritage consultants such as AB Heritage at the outset of a project, will identify archaeological risk and provide advice to help avoid potential hurdles later in the planning process.

Additionally, if site works are required – these can be timetabled early in the development process to avoid costly delays to the programme. Our professional heritage consultants monitor site works to ensure that fieldwork is delivered on time and within the agreed scope of works. No scope creep = no delays = no spiralling costs.

A range of professional assessments and reports are available to suit various planning requirements. An example some of our products is given below.

Our Initial Site Heritage Appraisals have been designed to provide a broad assessment of heritage risk on any land being considered for development, even prior to purchase. This pre-planning report will not only outline options for further works that may be required but will provide useful data for risk registers and purchase negotiations as part of your decision-making process.

An Archaeological Desk Based Assessment focuses mainly on assessing the below ground archaeological factors associated with a development, providing a clear and impartial assessment of the potential impact associated with a development and how best to avoid them. These are undertaken to inform a planning application, or as an information gathering tool to help advise on site design and layout. The work includes data orders of the local Historic Environment Record; a site visit and review of data held at the Local Record Office; a detailed impact assessment; and recommendations for appropriate investigation or mitigation works, where required.

Heritage Statements are required for Listed Building Consent Applications and to support applications affecting Conservation Areas, the setting of Listed Buildings and other surviving heritage assets. These reports establish the history and development of a building or site, to better understand the historic significance of such features and allow the most effective design works to take place to help achieve planning consent.

Detailed Heritage Settings Assessment follows a step-by-step procedure to assess the historic setting of a building or site. By understanding specific factors related to the historic setting of a site it is possible to assess potential impacts and benefits associated with a proposed development at the earliest possible stage, allowing heritage consultants to guide planning works to a successful conclusion. These are typically required for larger developments which have the potential to impact the setting of a number of heritage assets in the vicinity of the site, such as housing developments or infrastructure projects.

Often stipulated as a condition of planning, an Historic Building Recording Survey is used as a tool to understand a structure’s historic significance and development over time. There are four levels of survey as set out in Historic England’s guidance document Understanding Historic Buildings: A Guide to Good Recording Practice (2016). These range from a high-level and scene setting appraisal (Level 1), through to a high detailed / measured survey of the building (Level 4). Whichever level of survey is required for your project they all play a specific role in assessing, managing and recording the structure as part of the redevelopment of a site. Your Heritage Consultant will help guide you on the most appropriate level for your needs.

AB Heritage is a professional commercial archaeology consultancy and a registered organisation with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Operating across the UK, the company helps clients to manage historic environment project risk as part of successful developments.

Author: Chloe Smith BA MA ACIfA, Heritage Consultant for AB Heritage