Whitefox MD Darren Frias-Robles looks at the important role of archaeology in the planning system

By Darren Frias-Robles [email protected]

Published: May 21, 2024 | Updated: 21st May 2024

Archaeology plays an important role in the planning system, ensuring that historical and cultural heritage is preserved during development.

This article from Darren Frias Robles, Managing Director of Whitefox Chartered Surveyors, outlines key responsibilities, legislation, and best practices related to archaeology.

Archaeological losses

In 1954 during the construction of a new office block in London, the foundations of the Roman temple of the god Mithras were discovered. They were then promptly dismantled & removed. Other construction works throughout the 1950s and 60s resulted in similar losses. In historic cities and towns such as Chester, York and Winchester, many precious archaeological remains were lost without being recorded.

Public outrage

There was widespread concern over ever increasing losses which came to a head in 1989 when the foundations of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre were uncovered in 1989 during construction of an office block in London. There was public outrage at the time that these important remains would be lost. Consequently, the building was redesigned to allow the remains to stay intact.

The year after, the Government issued formal policy on archaeology and planning. This introduced a requirement for archaeological surveys to be undertaken before planning a consent is granted. This policy now forms part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Local Planning Authorities (LPAs):

LPAs are required to identify areas of archaeological significance within the local plan for each area. There is a further requirement on them to set clear policies for managing heritage assets. Part of this includes maintaining Historic Environment Records (HERs). To do so, they will employ a planning archaeologist to advise on heritage matters or require a HER to be prepared on a development site prior to determining a planning application.

When granting planning permission that may impact on archaeology, a consent will often include a requirement to submit a written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) outlining a methodology for archaeological work to be undertaken both prior to and during construction works.

Planning Applications – Pre-Application Consultation:

Applicants are required to engage with the LPA’s planning archaeologist (often the County Archaeologist). This process will confirm any archaeological requirements for an approved development and will often include submissions from the applicant’s archaeologist setting out how the development can proceed safely whilst safeguarding any archaeological assets.

The application will usually be accompanied by an Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment which reviews and evaluates existing records and historical data. If necessary, archaeological investigations will be conducted which can include fieldwork and excavations by the applicant’s preferred archaeologist.

Examples of archaeological discoveries:

Here are some interesting examples of archaeological discoveries made during construction projects in the UK:

Local Example – Land North of Lake Farm, Wimborne, Dorset (Scheduled Ancient Monument)

Located between the village of Corfe Mullen and the town of Wimborne in Dorset, this is a local example of a site containing 4 successive Roman military enclosures including a camp, forts and a Roman Vexillation Fortress.

The latter of these were temporary fortresses built by campaigning armies of between 2500 and 4000 men.

Built immediately after the Roman conquest of Britain in AD43 during the period when the army continued to establish control over the occupied territory.

Vexillation fortresses were characterised by a single rampart of earth revetted with timber, then surrounded with one or more outer ditches. Ground penetrating radar and magnetic surveys undertaken in 1976 and 1983 identified the site to extend to some 11.7hectares in extent.

In 2009, conditional planning approval was granted for the construction of an agricultural barn on part of the site  This included conditions to undertake an Archaeological assessment and watching brief. A local company (Wessex Archaeology) were commissioned to undertake this work.

Wessex Archaeology undertook physical excavations in the area to be developed and catalogued their findings. They further then undertook a ‘watching brief’ during construction of the barn and provided a report upon completion of their observations during this time.

Reference– see the following website link for further information on the findings of the Archaeological Evaluation, alongside site images taken. Conducted and written by Wessex Archaeology: Microsoft Word – EVAL REPORT (

Shakespearean Theatre:

In England, the remains of a Shakespearean theatre in Hackney, East London were discovered during construction.

The Theatre was built between 1576-7 and is believed to have been the first place to show Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

It was a popular venue of the time, with several companies associated with it, including the Lord Chamberlain’s Company (which included Shakespeare as an actor). In 2016, the remains of the theatre were formally protected.


These important discoveries highlight the importance of protecting archaeology during construction projects.

Historical artifacts such as these enrich our understanding of the past. Important archaeological remains are protected by law under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Archaeology can present a significant risk to any development project and needs to be planned and managed carefully.

At Whitefox Chartered Surveyors our experienced team can assist you in effectively managing this risk by careful planning and liaison between all relevant stakeholders.

Early assessment of the extent of archaeology and its impact on the proposed development provides valuable time to adapt projects to accommodate any constraints that are likely to be imposed.

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