QMark: archaeologically sensitive sites

11th May 2017

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  • Environmental Impact Assessment


Sara Metcalfe

John Trehy, associate director, Terence O'Rourke considers the importance of a robust EIA process and effective community consultation for an archaeologically sensitive site

We have been involved with the EIA and ongoing archaeological advice for a residential development to the north west of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. The site was found to have key buried archaeological resources such as remnants of a former settlement, which the ground works of the proposed development would inevitably have an impact on.

The planning application and environmental statement (ES), was submitted in autumn 2014 and the scheme was granted outline planning consent in early 2015. However, a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman added further complication to discharging the pre-commencement planning condition for archaeology.

As part of the comprehensive EIA procedure, in line with best practice, as well as undertaking extensive consultation with the archaeology officer at Suffolk County Council, we commissioned several stages of site-specific archaeological evaluation (aerial photography, geophysical survey and two phases of trial trenching) to better understand the previously unknown and unrecorded archaeological resource across the proposed development area. The reports were technical appendices to the cultural heritage chapter in the submitted ES.

The effects of the proposals were judged to be significant for the EIA, without any mitigation. However, the predicted effect on archaeology could be fully mitigated through the excavating specific zones of the site, the related schemes of community involvement and dissemination of the results to the local community and subsequently to the wider archaeological community.

It is widely recognised in government guidance and policy that the historic environment provides the basis for a community’s sense of place and connectivity with past communities that shaped the local landscape.

While the very process of excavation can be viewed as destructive, it does yield the most reliable evidence and can lead to an expression of the past for those that live, or are planning to live, close to the site of discovery. It is important for communities to understand the local significance of their historic environment, as it can assist and empower individuals to instigate important social inclusion projects that can aid local economic stability.

Implementation of the mitigation scheme began in March 2016. The excavation strategy, or Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI), produced to satisfy the planning condition imposed by the archeology officer, clearly stated how the site works would be accompanied by at least two public open days and other schemes of dissemination to local schools and parish councils.

The importance of extensive community involvement and dissemination of the archaeological findings came sharply into focus for the client and ourselves after specific complaints were made to the ombudsman by locals about the archeology work undertaken.

By this time the outline planning consent could not be challenged, but the complaint raised uncertainty over the validity of the WSI and potentially the archaeological investigations that had begun.

Our extensive evaluation process and long-term consultation with the archeology officer throughout the EIA process served us well throughout the following year of accusations, and in early 2016 the ombudsman rejected all of the allegations questioning our archaeological evaluation of the site and the manner in which the archeology officer had handled the necessary site investigations.

The ombudsman concluded that the complainant had failed to acknowledge the transparent nature of our EIA for the development proposals, through which the results of all the archaeological surveys were appended to our ES and summarised within our ES cultural heritage chapter.

The complainant then attended the first organised open day event in May 2016 and soon realised the extensive knowledge of the archaeological resource being shared openly and enthusiastically with no hidden agenda or unreasonable timescales jeopardising the archaeological recording.

Since then, separate local events have been organised in collaboration with other local interest groups in order to spread the word on the archaeological findings. The professional and transparent manner by which the archaeological scheme of investigation has been carried out by all parties has fully satisfied this element of the planning conditions.


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