Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust (L 147)

RESCUE is an entirely independent charity, which exists to promote and highlight the interests of archaeology and the historic environment within the United Kingdom. We have no links with any political party and are funded entirely by the subscriptions and donations of our members. Details of our activities can be found on our website: www.rescue-archaeology.org.uk . Please note that this communication and any response we may receive as a consequence will be placed on our website for the information of our members.

RESCUE supports the Government’s stated aim to empower local communities. However, we have concerns regarding the future of our historic environment and the level of protection it is afforded within the planning process, should this Bill proceed in its current form.

In particular, we strongly object to Schedule 12 of the Bill, that disapplies the provisions of sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 in relation to neighbourhood development orders. Such safeguards are in place to protect vulnerable elements of our historic environment from thoughtless or ill-considered development, and are exactly the kind of provisions that should be continued within any new planning system.

RESCUE is concerned that the Localism Bill, and the National Planning Policy Framework, should recognise the importance to the cultural health of the UK that the historic environment provides, and ensure that it is adequately protected as a result. All heritage features are "local" in some respect – but many have greater significance as unique survivors of regional or national significance, and in some cases, "local" sites are of international heritage importance. The Government must make provision for Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas Registered Parks, Gardens and Battlefields and World Heritage Sites to be considered within the formulation of neighbourhood development orders and neighbourhood plans as a minimum.

In addition, we would like to take the opportunity to remind the Government of its obligations regarding the provisions of the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, 1992 (Commonly known as the Valletta Convention), to which the UK is a signatory. Article 5 expressly details the measures that the UK is required to undertake regarding archaeology and the planning process. Such provisions must be extended to neighbourhood planning, which will need to ensure that archaeological concerns, informed and advised by qualified, independent expert opinion, are considered to be a key baseline issue.

RESCUE firmly believes that in general local communities take pride in their historic environment, would wish to ensure its protection and continued survival, and would welcome the inclusion of measures within any new neighbourhood development plan designed to ensure this. However, without the appropriate and required safeguards being in place to ensure this protection at a local level, there is a real danger that plans could be devised without consideration of the historic environment in mind, and that consequently features of national significance, or of potential as yet unrecognised, would be placed at risk of damage or destruction through lack of impartial expert assessment or advice. The Government must take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure this does not happen.

February 2011