Archaeology, Heritage & Conservation

Archaeology and history

Central Bedfordshire has a rich and varied archaeological heritage with nationally significant sites and monuments dating from the prehistoric through to the post medieval period. As well as over 3,000 archaeological sites and monuments, we have 84 nationally designated archaeological sites of the highest significance, known as Scheduled Monuments.

Two major Roman roads, Watling Street (A5) and the road linking Godmanchester and Baldock via Sandy, pass through Central Bedfordshire. Many of our villages and towns are mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086 AD.

Medieval Central Bedfordshire may well, in many ways, have resembled the modern landscape. It was largely rural with the town of Leighton Buzzard, Ampthill, Biggleswade and Dunstable all playing a major commercial role.

Relics of the medieval agricultural system survive as earthwork ridge and furrow around many of our villages. Common land such as the Dunstable Downs and the area to the north of Biggleswade not only date from the medieval period but also preserve some of our more recent archaeology. It is in areas like this that First World War practise trenches and Second World War search lights survive.

The archaeology team

Protecting our archaeological heritage is the responsibility of the Archaeologists of the Major Applications Team at Central Bedfordshire Council.

We advise Central Bedfordshire Council, Luton Borough Council, developers, land owners and others about the archaeological impact of development proposals. We provide specialist input into strategic plans and policy and also oversee archaeological investigations to ensure they meet national standards for best practice. The Archaeologists also provide advice on the management, promotion and interpretation of Central Bedfordshire’s archaeological sites and historic landscapes, including opportunities for outreach activities and community involvement.

Archaeology and the National Planning Policy Framework

The value of archaeology in creating a sense of place and local character is recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework (link opens in new window) (NPPF), as is its value in contributing to our understanding of the past.

When a planning application is submitted that will affect archaeological remains it must include a description of the significance of the heritage asset with archaeological interest as required by paragraph 189 of the NPPF. In Central Bedfordshire we do not ask for all planning applications to include this information, so if in doubt please contact the Archaeology Team on 0300 300 6603 or 0300 300 6029 to see if this is required.

If a description of significance is required, it should form part of an archaeological Heritage Statement. The Heritage Statement should contain two elements:

  • a description of the significance of the heritage assets with archaeological interest (this is usually drawn from information obtained from the Historic Environment Record)
  • an assessment of the impact of the development on the heritage assets. For example: will the excavation of foundations damage any surviving archaeological remains?

If the appropriate information on archaeology is not submitted with the planning application, it will either not be validated or can be withdrawn until the information has been obtained. Ultimately, if the appropriate Heritage Statement is not supplied, the planning application can be refused.

Some planning applications may be refused on archaeological grounds. For example, if development proposals would cause substantial harm to archaeological remains or their significance. However, it is more usual to make approval conditional on an archaeological investigation being undertaken in advance of construction work. The outcome of the archaeological investigation is a published report, and the finds and records from the excavation are deposited with a local accredited museum where they are publicly accessible.

Some archaeological remains can be preserved within a development, for example, within a public open space or under a building where foundations have been designed not to impact on archaeological deposits. Appropriate interpretation of such remains can be required through planning conditions.

Archaeology – approval of details application process

When planning consent is issued with archaeological condition attached, this usually means that archaeological works must be carried out before development can begin (known as a pre-commencement condition). If a planning consent has an archaeological condition attached, the developer needs to:

  1. contact the archaeology team to request a brief outlining the scope of works
  2. send the archaeological brief to a range of archaeological contractors, preferably registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) (link opens in new window)
  3. appoint an archaeological contractor to produce the Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) required by the planning condition and send it to the archaeology team for informal approval
  4. once the archaeology team has agreed the WSI, submit the application for approval

View the appropriate form (PDF) on the Planning Portal website (link opens in new window).

No works (archaeological or construction) can begin until details in the WSI have been formally approved by the LPA. Please do not send WSIs to the LPA for approval without first having them agreed by the archaeology team. If presented with an unsolicited WSI, the team is likely to recommend refusal.

The archaeological scheme must be implemented before the development in completed.