Is it time to dig up the past?

In celebration of the CBA Festival of Archaeology 2022 and Blanchards Bailey’s headline sponsorship of Discover Dorchester’s Home of Hillforts and Henges, we roll up our sleeves and “dig beneath the surface” of the law relating to archaeology.

Archaeology and the law may not seem to be two disciplines that would be naturally harmonious together. The legal profession is sometimes (stereotypically) perceived as suited professionals working at desks in steel and glass buildings. In contrast, the most common comparison for an archaeologist is Indiana Jones.

So how do the two disciplines come together? The full answer to that question would fill require the Library of Alexandria if investigating every route possible. For the sake of this article, however, the most common overlap for many clients is in the area of property law.

Archaeology plays an important role in the process of infrastructure projects; Projects, such as the development of new homes seen all over Dorset require developers to demonstrate consideration of archaeology to prevent any unforeseen problems occurring down the line.

The late 20th Century produced a number of statutes designed to protect archaeological finds. For example, the 1990 Planning Policy Guidance, more commonly known as the PPG16, insists on local planning authorities considering archaeological issues when granting or denying planning applications. Further legislation has been developed over time within the National Planning Policy Framework, further emphasising the importance of the UK’s archaeological heritage. The most common example of this is the requirement to carry out an archaeological survey prior to commencing any development of land.

An archaeological survey is required any time a developer is planning a project which will be located on land that holds registered historical significance. However, as occurred at Shillingstone in North Dorset in the early 2000’s where a Roman Villa was discovered under what is now Augustan Avenue, it can be the case that historical features have not yet been identified and can still cause complications for development. Archaeological finds can cause hidden problems for developers, such as drainage issues, subsidence or even the threat of unexploded weaponry from previous wars.

Equally, it is appropriate to note the serious damage unregulated development can have on the UK’s cultural heritage. From a legal point of view, disregarding the need for archaeological surveys on sites of historical value is a breach of the laws of England and Wales, most significantly the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, the National Heritage Act 1983 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Failure to organise such surveys can be met with unlimited fines, periods of imprisonment as well as the developments suffering significant delays or completely collapsing. Archaeological surveys achieve two important goals: firstly, to prevent commercial or residential developments from being delayed significantly, and secondly to provide the chance to record and preserve the archaeological heritage of the UK. Whilst the progression of development projects plays an important role in maintaining local economy and infrastructure, the UK’s archaeological heritage equally forms a crucial part of our cultural identity and the legislation in place continues to protect it.

Blanchards Bailey are proud to be the headline sponsorship of Home of Hillforts and Henges culminating in HengeFest a family fun day, packed with a variety of activities to try from Viking Axe Throwing to Nature Crafts. It’s free entry; so come by and meet our team in Maumbury Rings on 31 July and get involved in our own simulated archaeological dig!

Equally, contact our specialist property teams on 01258 459361 to discuss all things relating to property development. 

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