Archaeology and development in Merseyside

What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of past peoples and societies through investigation of their material remains. These remains can take many forms including isolated finds, buried sites, earthworks, landscape features and historic buildings in the towns and countryside.

The archaeology of Merseyside is extremely rich and diverse. The landscape has been modified by humans for over 10,000 years and displays evidence from the Prehistoric periods to the more recent industrial and built heritage.

Archaeological remains contain irreplaceable information about the past and are valuable in themselves and for their contribution towards education, recreation and the economic life of Merseyside. There are many threats to archaeological remains in both rural and urban environments including development on brown and green field sites, road and pipeline construction, mineral extraction, forestry and agriculture.

The Merseyside Archaeological Service recognised the importance of regeneration and change, balanced against the need to protect and enhance our understanding of Merseyside's archaeological and historical environment.

The Merseyside Archaeological Advisory Service closed on 31 March 2011. The Service, which had been hosted by National Museums Liverpool on behalf of the Merseyside local authorities for 20 years, closed because the partners cut all funding. The partners were: The City of Liverpool, Knowsley Council, St Helens Council, Sefton Council and the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.

Please contact the relevant local planning department for further information.

Archaeology and the planning process

Protection of the archaeological resource is provided through the planning process. The Department for Communities and Local Government issued Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment on 23 March 2010. This replaced, with immediate effect, Planning Policy Guidance Nos. 15 and 16 (Historic Environment and Archaeology respectively). PPS5 is accompanied by guidance prepared by English Heritage (Historic Environment Planning Practice Guide).

PPS5 terms heritage assets as those parts of the historic environment that hold a degree of significance of archaeological, historic, architectural and artistic interests. Designated heritage assets have a level of significance warranting special protection under the relevant legislation (World Heritage Site, Scheduled Monument, Listed building, protected Wreck Site, Registered Park and Garden, Registered Battlefield or Conservation area). Non-designated heritage assets include the vast majority of non Scheduled archaeological remains, historic landscapes, buildings of local interest, artwork.

PPS5 emphasises the need for pre-planning consultation, assessment and expert advice to inform local authority decision making; Historic Environment Records have a central role as a source of information. PPS5 requires recording and advance understanding where the significance of heritage assets is to be lost and also that some sites of potential national archaeological interest, whilst not yet designated, should be treated in the same way as designated assets. In addition the publication and archiving of heritage assets lost to development is to be secured.

A small number of archaeological sites in Merseyside already have statutory protection as Scheduled Monuments (designated heritage assets) and these are protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
In addition, the five Metropolitan Boroughs of Merseyside have policies relating to archaeology within their Local Development Framework plans.

archaeologists working in a recently dug pit

Excavation of Liverpool's first dock, 'The Old Dock'

Development in the historic environment

The Merseyside Archaeological Advisory Service closed on 31 March 2011. The Service, which had been hosted by National Museums Liverpool on behalf of the Merseyside local authorities for 20 years, closed because the partners cut all funding. The partners were: The City of Liverpool, Knowsley Council, St Helens Council, Sefton Council and the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.

Please contact the relevant local planning department for further information.

Known information on archaeology and the wider historic environment is recorded on the Merseyside Historic Environment Record.

Those planning a development are advised to seek advice as early as possible before submitting a planning application, as archaeology will be a material consideration for the Local Planning Authority when making a planning decision. Early consultation at the planning and design stage of a development can aid and inform decision-making, avoid later problems and save time and money.

On the basis of this initial appraisal it may be necessary to obtain more detailed information about the impact of a development proposal upon the historic environment. This work may include an archaeological desk-based assessment| and/or field evaluation| carried out by a professional archaeological contractor. The written report on this work should accompany the planning application and include an assessment of the archaeological effects of the development and any measures proposed to reduce its impact. The Local Planning Authority may refuse permission where insufficient archaeological information has been supplied.

The priority is to minimise the impact of development upon archaeological remains. Some remains may need to be preserved in situ. To achieve this the Local Planning Authority will require sympathetic foundation design or amendments to the layout. Where appropriate, the second best option is detailed excavation|, recording| and publication of the results. Similarly, where works to an historic building are proposed there may be a need for an archaeological record of the structure to be made (see Historic Building Analysis|).

In some cases, particularly small-scale development, recording of archaeological remains, by a professional archaeological contractor, during the course of development may be advised; this is known as a watching brief| and will normally be secured by a planning condition.

Archaeological work can be secured either by use of a planning condition or by a legal agreement under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

It is national and local practice that the costs of archaeological work made necessary by development should, in most circumstances, be borne by the developer.

Archaeology in practice

Archaeological work can take a number of forms:

  • Desk-based assessment - A detailed assessment of available information before a planning application is submitted or approved.
  • Field evaluation - A survey or trial excavation designed to assess the nature of remains within a proposed development area before a planning application is submitted or approved. Techniques may include fieldwalking, geophysical survey and trial trenching.
  • Historic buildings analysis - A survey designed to assess and record architectural and historically important elements of listed and non-listed buildings prior to alteration or demolition. Techniques can range from a photographic record to full building analysis.
  • Excavation and recording - A controlled programme of fieldwork to provide a lasting record of archaeological evidence about to be unavoidably destroyed by development.
  • Watching brief - The recording of archaeological evidence revealed during the course of development.

Historic environment and regeneration

It is important that the historic environment is fully considered before drawing up strategic regeneration frameworks and individual projects. An understanding of our past environment and the sensitive reuse of its historic fabric can positively influence future town planning and can enhance the character of an area, thus contributing to a more pleasant environment, a wider sense of cultural identity and, in some cases, to the economy of an area. Early consultation with the Merseyside Archaeological Service can assist in identifying those sites of archaeological and historic potential, which may contribute to and inform proposals for regeneration.

The Merseyside Archaeological Service assisted in:

  • providing archaeological information and advice
  • assessing the archaeological potential of proposed development areas
  • advising on the likely archaeological impact of development proposals and appropriate measures to reduce their impact
  • providing written briefs for archaeological work
  • advising on the appointment of professional archaeological contractors and consultants who operate in Merseyside
  • monitoring archaeological projects to ensure professional standards and compliance with planning requirements
  • liasing with local and national archaeological bodies
  • conserving, managing and interpreting archaeological remains
  • understanding archaeological law
  • formulating planning policy and development plans

The Merseyside Archaeological Advisory Service closed on 31 March 2011. The Service, which had been hosted by National Museums Liverpool on behalf of the Merseyside local authorities for 20 years, closed because the partners cut all funding. The partners were: The City of Liverpool, Knowsley Council, St Helens Council, Sefton Council and the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.

Please contact the relevant local planning department for further information.