Archaeology in local government

In the 1960s, considerable damage was done to the nation's archaeological resource, particularly in Britain's historic towns and cities, through the lack of specialist archaeological advice available to local planning authorities. However, since the first local government archaeologists were appointed in the 1970s, great progress has been made in projecting archaeology firmly into the local planning process.

This was emphasised by the publication of planning policy guidance from the 1990s which has led to a significant increase in demand for advice on archaeological issues at local level. Subsequent guidance has also emphasised the need for archaeological analysis and recording to play a full role in the understanding and management of historic buildings and the historic built environment. Now, no assessment of the environmental impact of a development proposal would be complete without an appraisal of its archaeological implications.

Working within local government, archaeological services have four key functions in order to encourage the identification, recording, protection, management, interpretation and promotion of archaeological sites and monuments:

  • To develop and maintain a comprehensive public information resources (Historic Environment Records/Sites and Monuments Records) for the understanding and enjoyment of the the historic environment.
  • To ensure that all development and other land use takes into account the need properly to conserve the archaeological heritage.
  • To conserve the historic environment by improved management, through, for example, agri-environment schemes which can protect archaeological sites from the damaging effects of ploughing.
  • To promote awareness, understanding and enjoyment of the historic environment through education and outreach programmes.

Current planning advice in England is guided by the National Planning Policy Framework (PDF). Originally published in 2012, it was revised in 2018. A full suite of planning guidance documents were produced to support the NPPF, of which Conserving and enhancing the historic environment is the key supporting document for the historic environment.

Historic England has provided two documents - good practice advice notes providing advice on how national policy and guidance can be applied; and more detailed Historic England Advice Notes.