Why archaeology in the English planning process works (planning case studies)

For over 30 years the impact of development on most archaeological sites and structures in England has been managed through the planning system. This has meant that

  • the impact of proposed development is assessed prior to planning permission being granted

  • tailored programmes of archaeological investigation are agreed where needed

Sometimes planning permission is refused because a development would have unacceptable impact on a nationally important site, but normally development goes ahead in a modified form and/or includes archaeological investigation. This enables planners to make informed decisions about managing cultural heritage assets sustainably – making development less damaging and identifying opportunities for wider heritage benefits.

The Archaeology and Planning Case Studies project collected 117 examples of how the system works in practice: what happens when key policies are implemented effectively and what happens when they aren’t.

On this page you will find resources to help you explore the case studies and what they illustrate about the planning process. 

Download the summary PDF



Download the full report



View the case studies



Additional resources:

Archaeology and Planning webinar: Illustrating how & why the system works

These 90 minute webinars each explore how the planning system creates opportunities for archaeology and the value that archaeology adds to planning. The webinar specifically discusses how recent planning reform in England has been impacting the way that this system works and how the archaeology sector is working to make the case for improvements to future provision.

Short CPD videos:

Don't have 90 minutes to spare? Try these 10 minute bitesize CPD videos!


About the project

The cases describe how the impact of proposed development on designated and non-designated heritage assets is assessed, and how that impact is mitigated through modification of the development or offset by archaeological investigation and dissemination. The case studies also demonstrate how these approaches have delivered a huge amount of new knowledge about England’s past, and have been used to engage communities and share new understandings of a place in ways that bring genuine public benefit.

More importantly, this is the first study of its kind to provide evidence of how well the process works when it is applied as intended by planning policy, and how heritage assets, development and the public interest can be needlessly damaged when it is not.

The case studies show how risks to and opportunities for heritage and development are managed successfully when the impacts of construction are properly evaluated. In half the studies previously unknown heritage assets were encountered and then planned for, enabling development to proceed. The report highlights the problems caused when planning authorities do not require such evaluations or they are poorly done. In particular, the case studies show that unexpected discoveries can cause delays and additional costs, especially when human remains are found.

Jan Wills, who compiled the report with Stewart Bryant, said

We found 22 cases where there was no pre-determination evaluation. On each occasion unexpected discoveries caused significant additional costs or delays to the developer. Worse, in four cases the discoveries affected the viability of the development.’

The report demonstrates that pre-commencement conditions, which have been looked on with suspicion by government, are the best way of ensuring public benefit through an increase in knowledge and the engagement of the public in new discoveries.

Victoria Thomson, Historic England’s Head of National Strategy, said

I am pleased that the report we commissioned from CIfA provides timely evidence on the operation of the planning system, which I am sure will prove valuable to planners and archaeologists alike

The survey underlines how crucial local authority archaeological advisers are, and how the ability to achieve sustainable development is undermined when specialist advice is not available to, or used by, the planning authority.

To see further findings, and to read nine important recommendations about the impact of recent changes to planning, identification of nationally important assets, opportunities to improve practice, and protecting vulnerable expert advice to planners, please download the full report from the Historic England website.