Archaeology volunteers from the Horsham district have expressed ‘enormous concern’ at changes to specialist advice on proposed developments.
West Sussex County Council withdrew its specialist archaeology advice service from Horsham District Council’s planning department at the start of April.
Previously the county archaeologist provided this to all local authorities in West Sussex on planning applications, but now district and borough councils will have to make their own arrangements.
Volunteers from the Horsham District Archaeology Group (HDAG) described the ‘enormous concern’ this has caused in the archaeological community with the loss of specialist knowledge and no continuity of approach.
A spokesperson for the group, which was set up in 2010 and has more than 60 members, said: “There is a real threat of many archaeological sites, as yet undiscovered, being destroyed without record, particularly whilst decisions are taking time to be made.”
HDAG member Vicky Lillywhite said: “You need people who understand what is there already but also the potential of what could be on a site.”
We are currently making arrangements to ensure that advice is available in the short-term while we consider a more formal and longer term arrangement with an archaeological advice providerHorsham District Council spokesperson
She referenced the archaeological saying: ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, and felt that purely doing desktop assessments using the county-wide database would not be enough and site visits were often required.
A spokesperson for HDC said: “We are currently making arrangements to ensure that advice is available in the short-term while we consider a more formal and longer term arrangement with an archaeological advice provider. We will be in touch with the Horsham District Archeology Group as soon as we can confirm details of the arrangements.”
A spokesperson for West Sussex County Council explained after a review of its specialist advice service on ecology, archaeology and landscape architecture in 2014 it has decided to stop the non-statutory service.
This was due to it being a reactive service, not being able to provide additional one-off support such as on planning appeals, and the fact the county council was incurring costs that could not be recovered.
The spokesperson added: “The county council has been working with the district and borough councils to help them put alternative service provision in place.
“The district and borough councils continue to have access to data held by the county council in the ‘Historic Environment Record’.”