On the 31st March 2016 the Lancashire County archaeological planning advisory service closed. As Lancashire was the first local authority to appoint a county archaeologist, way back in 1963, this is a heart-wrenching moment, which may act as signal to other lcoal authorities that they too can ditch this kind of heritage planning advisory service…
…However, Joanne Smith and Peter Isles, who formerly ran the Lancashire advisory service, are in advanced discussions with the County Council to continue this service on a consultancy basis. Joanne posted on the BAJR website on 31st March 2016 that ‘We’re currently awaiting approval from the legal services team but hopefully this should be sorted soon. We’ve said we will update the record free of charge and also deal with student and public enquiries for free. We will charge commercial users and local planning authorities. We’re both qualified archaeologists with knowledge of Lancashire and curatorial experience. I’m aware this isn’t an ideal situation but it will hopefully keep the record open for the foreseeable future which is our priority.’
Although the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) requires local authorities to maintain an HER for planning purposes the situation in Lancashire is made more complicated by its two-tier level of authorties. The county council can claim that their withdrawl from the service now means that the provision of this duty lies with the 14 district authorities in Lancashire. However, several of those district authorities had already withdrawn their financial support of the servcie prior to 2015.
Despite some on-line synicism about the campaign to save the Lancashire archaeolgical planning advisory service I believe that the lobbying by local archaeology groups and individuals, as well as CBA NW, CBA, RESCUE and Historic England, combined with the on-line petition (1175 signatures is not bad for what is a complicated and technical argument) have put sufficient pressure on the county council to stop them walking away completely. What needs to be done now is to keep up that pressure so that a fuller service can be restored. Encouragement should be taken from the resurection of the Merseyside archaeological planning advisory service; closed in 2011 but after continued pressure revived in 2014 with, first, the appointment of an HER officer and now in 2016 the appointment of a planning archaeologist.
CBA North West, of which I am Chair, will be offering its support for the new consultancy service whilst looking to maintain pressure on the Lancashire local authorities to provide a long-term future for this important service. We will be looking again at how we can enable our members to continue to ram home the argument that archaeology benefits the local economy, provides social cohesion for local communties, and can be a part of the health and well-being agenda. Archaeology has a future – especially in Lancashire.