Planning Case Study 5
Bexhill Hastings Link Road, A259 Belle Hill, Bexhill on Sea to B2092 Queensway, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex.
Heritage assets affected
Non-designated heritage assets with archaeological and historic interest including those of national importance.
Type of application & broad category
Local planning authority
Authority: East Sussex County Council
References: RR/2474/CC (2009) plus EIA
Construction of a new road, including environmental treatment with earthworks, planting, flood and noise attenuation, wildlife compensation, and facilities for non-motorised users.
Archaeological information known about the site before the planning application was made, or before the development commenced, as appropriate
The desk-based assessment for the Environmental Statement in 2004 identified the Combe Haven Valley alluvial deposits as an area of high palaeo-environmental potential and with archaeological interest.
Initial field assessment was undertaken in 2006-08. Conventional geophysics and fieldwalking revealed little additional information, especially for the areas covered by alluvium.
The high potential for early prehistoric archaeology along the proposed route, especially the areas with alluvium, was confirmed from geo-archaeology investigations in 2008 comprising boreholes, targeted test pits and an electrical conductivity survey.
These surveys informed a field evaluation in 2013 which comprised 58 boreholes, hand-dug 24 test pits and 181 trial trenches. The evaluation identified a number of lithic scatters, including in situ sites on former land surfaces beneath later alluvial deposits. However, the fragility of the deposits meant that the recovery rate for the trenches was much lower than the test pits. Only 5% of the 200 sites and 0.04% of the flints eventually found on the route were identified from the initial evaluation. Thereafter, test-pits were revealed an exceptionally well preserved and extensive nationally important landscape dating from the late upper Palaeolithic until the Bronze Age.
Commencement of development occurred before the completion of archaeological mitigation fieldwork, which caused problems due to the complexity of both the archaeology and the road scheme and its attendant landscaping.
The large numbers of in situ flint scatters of upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic date required significant additional funding (fully met by the Council) in order to complete the programme of archaeological work in accordance with the approved Written Schemes of Investigation and deliver the construction project used successfully as the primary means of identifying lithic scatters.
Sites were preserved in situ by re-design and where this was not possible sites were fully excavated in advance of and during the development project.
This is an example of a project that was carried out fully in compliance with the planning and the EIA process but still encountered higher than expected levels of significant archaeology. The benefit of the existing planning system was that the requirements of the necessary work could be fully justified in terms of increased expenditure and the public benefit that would result from carrying out the programme of archaeological work.
Other outcomes/outputs e.g. other public benefit such as public engagement, research and new/changed work practices
The particular nature of the geological and archaeological deposits and finds encountered led to the use of innovative techniques for archaeological assessment and evaluation:
- Electrical conductivity survey to produce a deposit model for targeting investigation.
- Hand-dug test-pits - rather than trial trenches - as the optimum technique for evaluating the very fragile in situ archaeological deposits.
- The use of both techniques is likely to have implications for the assessment and evaluation of other comparable landscapes in East Sussex and elsewhere.
References and links/bibliography
- Chris Blandford Associates 2004, Hastings to Bexhill Link Road: Archaeological Desk Based Assessment. Environmental Statement Volume 2, Chapter 13 - Cultural Heritage. Unpublished report.
- Historic England. National Importance Project Report. Identifying and Mapping Sites of National Importance Within The East Sussex Wetlands. Oxford Archaeology. Unpublished report, February 2015.
- Historic England 2019. Managing Lithic Scatters: Lithic scatters Case Studies. Case Study 7: A Mesolithic lithic and early prehistoric landscape at Bexhill to Hastings Link Road, East Sussex Mike Donnelly (Oxford Archaeology South). Unpublished report, Historic England.