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Archaeological planning guidance

Advice for property owners and developers whose building plans have archaeological implications.

We protect and conserve Oxfordshire’s archaeological resource by advising on planning applications and policies.

We provide detailed archaeological advice and information to other departments within Oxfordshire County Council, as well as to district councils, property owners and other national and regional bodies and utility companies.

Government guidance

The Department for Communities and Local Government issued The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in March 2012, which sets out the Government's planning policies on the conservation of the historic environment. This guidance was updated in 2018.

Listed buildings and conservation areas

If you need advice on listed buildings and conservation areas, contact your district council:

If your plans are affected by an archaeological investigation

What you may be requested to provide as part of a planning application?

The National Planning Framework (NPPF) requires an ‘applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected [by their development]’ (NPPF para 128). This will normally be set out in a Heritage Statement submitted with the planning application. Where the proposed site has the potential to contain archaeological deposits then a desk based assessment (DBA) should be undertaken and where necessary a field evaluation. It is advisable to contact us before the submission of any planning application to see if a desk based assessment is necessary.

Heritage Statements. The Heritage Statement will need to identify the currently known heritage assets in the vicinity of the application including listed buildings, scheduled monuments, parks and gardens and any recorded archaeological sites. The NPPF states that ‘As a minimum the relevant historic environment record should have been consulted and the heritage assets assessed using appropriate expertise where necessary.’ For small applications this information can be obtained using the online resource Heritage Gateway. For larger applications and Desk Based Assessment the Historic Environment Record will need to be consulted directly.

Desk Based Assessments. This is an assessment of the known archaeology in the vicinity of the application area that will include and assessment of the archaeological potential of the site. The DBA will need to be undertaken by a professional archaeological company with experience of producing such assessments. Online resources such as Heritage Gateway are not suitable for producing Desk Based Assessments as these may not be up to date and will not contain all the available data. The Historic Environment Record will need to be consulted to obtain the full monument records for the site. The Desk Based Assessment will need to be carried out in accordance with the Institute for Archaeology’s Standard and Guidance for Desk Based Assessments 2011.

An Archaeological Evaluation. Where the site is thought to have archaeological potential you may be required to carry out an archaeological field evaluation. This evaluation will consist of an investigation to identify whether or not archaeological remains are present on the site and if they are to provide sufficient information to assess their significance. The evaluation can consists of a series of non-invasive techniques such as field-walking and geophysical survey but is also likely to require a number of trenches excavated across the development area to sample to potential archaeological deposits. If you are required to undertaken an evaluation you should contact us and we will provide a design brief which will set out what is required. The field work will need to be undertaken by a professional archaeological company experienced in this type of work.

Why does archaeological work need to be done before planning permission is granted?

This is routine. Archaeological work, usually a desk-based assessment (using the Historic Environment Record) or field evaluation, is often requested before full planning permission is granted to make sure that:

  • the importance of the archaeological remains can be determined and accommodated in the most suitable way.
  • any further work can be properly planned for and the planning authority can make an informed decision.
  • if significant archaeological remains are discovered, this happens at a very early stage in the development so that they can be taken into account when finalising building footprints, costs and timelines.
  • if archaeological remains are found of such importance that the development is unable to go ahead on the particular site, then the applicant is aware of this before considerable time and resources have gone into the project.

I've received a letter from the planning authority stating that archaeological work needs to be undertaken. What do I do next?

The letter will tell you to contact us.

We will then provide you with a design brief for the work. You can use this to obtain quotations from a list of contractors who would be suitable to undertake the work. We suggest that you contact at least three contractors in order to get competitive quotations. If you have any questions at any stage, contact us and we will be happy to advise you.

I've been told that I need to carry out archaeological work as a condition of my planning permission but my neighbour didn't have to when he built on his land, and that's right next door. Why?

Each application is treated individually. There are no blanket responses for sites in particular locations. Each type of development will affect the archaeology differently and each location may lie closer or further from an area of archaeological potential. The archaeological record of the Historic Environment Record is constantly growing as new finds are made, so it is possible that some new piece of evidence has come to light which has changed our view of the archaeology of the area.

I know what you're looking for and it's over the road ...

Archaeological work is often required because the area of the development is in an area where there is a high likelihood of archaeological deposits that may be disturbed by the development. The presence of these may be indicated by a number of finds having been made nearby or the proximity of the application area to another site known to contain archaeological material.

The reason the work is undertaken is not necessarily because we know what is there but we have good reason to believe that something archaeological will be present and needs to be identified.

What do I do if I think we've found archaeology during construction but there was no archaeological condition on the planning permission?

If possible, stop work on the area where the archaeology has been found and contact us explaining what you have found, where it was found and how it was found. We will advise you on what to do next and, if necessary, a member of staff will come and visit the site.

Don't worry about this jeopardising your development: if you already have planning permission, it is likely that your development will progress as planned. We will treat such enquiries as high priority so as not to delay your work unnecessarily.