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Is Armageddon around the corner?

Hana Morel & Daniel Phillips

Archaeology in the UK: Is Armageddon really around the corner? Or can we continue to be complacent?

Last week represents a significant moment in the changing face of archaeology in post Brexit Britain. MPs rejected a combined Labour and Green Party amendment put forward to the EU Withdrawal Bill or Brexit Bill. Amendment 67 aimed to ensure EU law concerning environmental principles, of which the historic environment is covered, remains part of UK law after Brexit. The amendment was lost with a majority of 16. At its core was the issue concerning the “polluter pays principle”, upon which UK commercial archaeology is based.

Where it all began

By the early 1990s, the Town and County Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) introduced Section 106 agreements: these enabled Local Authorities to require developers to make contributions to mitigate the impacts of developments. Following the TCPA, perhaps the most significant document in recent history produced by the UK Government on archaeology was issued: the Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning (PPG 16), introduced November 1990.

PPG 16 was consequently replaced in 2010 by a statement with more emphasis on community engagement, PPS 5: Planning and the Historic Environment, which has also now all been replaced (along with all the other Planning Policy Statements) by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in 2012. The NPPF sought to simplify planning, but in fact diluted quite a lot of the principles laid out in the more thorough PPG 16.

In the meantime, archaeologists across the country continue to have their work threatened by proposals sidelining archaeology in the name of encouraging sustainable development. This is most notable through cuts to archaeological services (see RESCUE report of cuts throughout the whole UK ). As we all (should) know, many Local Authority historic environment services have had severe cuts to their budgets, which has not only reduced the ability of the service to react to situations and responsibilities, but has equally crippled the service through loss of staff and expertise.

Is this a real threat?

We arrive today at yet another potential threat to UK archaeology. What happened last week is not something to be complacent about. Polluter pays ideology changed archaeology significantly and is the core source of funding for development led archaeology in the UK.

The argument here is that while we may think that we are safe with the NPPF, it should be recognised from our own history that guidance’s and laws can and do change. So, should we be concerned? Most definitely YES. Is archaeological Armageddon really round the corner? NO, but only if we start acting now in a concerted and robust way.

If we want to continue seeing the Polluter’s Pay principle remains here in the UK, now is the time to speak up. It is at this precise stage where we should be writing to our MPs and making our voices heard. Once it is through Parliament, not much can be done.

We suggest that whatever sector of the historic environment you are working in, you mobilise and act.  Either as individuals to your MPs  OR through your professional institution or representative body.

Government Link to the amendment:

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