Battlefields: Planning Best Practice - feedback on a report by Lichfields UK

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Closes 3 Nov 2022

Introduction and executive summary

This report has been prepared by Lichfields on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland (HES). HES commissioned the report in the context of petition PE1852 introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 3 February 2021 calling for increased planning protection for Scotland’s battlefields. The purpose of the document is to provide evidence-based recommendations that inform best practice in the designation and management of Inventory battlefields in the planning system.

The report sets Scotland’s Inventory in an international context relating to the appreciation and management of battlefield sites before setting out in detail the legal and policy context within which battlefields are designated and managed. This review identifies that nationally and at a planning authority level the recognition of battlefield is generally consistent. It highlights only slight variation between planning authorities and highlights that Highland Council and Stirling Council have both invested considerable effort in guidance aimed at the effective management of Inventory battlefields.

A review of the Inventory itself considers what the Inventory contains and how it is documented. It identifies that the documentation of the Inventory is more expansive than for other heritage designations. A statistical analysis of land-use and heritage designations helps to give an understanding of the level of protection, preservation and pressure on each of the 40 Inventory battlefields. This identifies that virtually all battlefields have seen a degree of subsequent development which might be considered to be damaging but the extent of this is very variable.

A review of planning casework relied on information provided by Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government. Most of this data had been collected for different purposes than this report and so our analysis of the process of casework cannot be considered to be an entirely comprehensive review of every case related to an Inventory battlefield but is sufficient to identify patterns. This analysis of case data has been complemented by detailed discussions with a range of those involved in the protection, management and investigation of battlefields.

Arising from this analysis the report discusses a number of issues in relation to the Inventory:

• The purpose of the Inventory is well understood and supported but some parties wish to see it provide a greater degree of protection.

• The greatest threat to Inventory battlefields is generally seen as being development. However, generally the management of battlefields through the planning process is seen as being effective but there remains a lack of confidence that the process can be relied upon to protect battlefields.

• Some parties wish to see a far greater level of protection for battlefields, but consideration of casework suggests that this would be out of proportion to other planning and heritage protection interests.

• The Inventory entries are lengthy and highly regarded as an information source but are less helpful when it comes to informing questions relating to the management of Inventory sites.

• While it is necessary to draw a boundary to a protected area, battles rarely had a hard edge and so there is always the potential for boundaries to appear arbitrary.

• The approach to setting in relation to battlefields is not explicitly defined in national policy but is addressed in the approach of many planning authorities and has the benefit of reducing the perception that all protection ends abruptly at the boundary.

• The nature of land use, particularly built-up areas which have lost much of their special characteristics, is not currently reflected in Inventory designations. Accordingly, built-up areas are now subject to the removal of a range of Permitted Development Rights without much obvious heritage benefit.

• Battlefield archaeology has characteristics that distinguish it from other areas of archaeology with a greater emphasis on the patterns of distribution of material over a wide area. The piecemeal development-led recording of small areas in the absence of consistent techniques for investigation and recording reduces the effectiveness of this mitigation.

• Both Stirling Council and Highland Council, in particular, have set out clear guidance intended to provide greater clarity regarding the issues around the management of battlefields in their area.

• While additional resources would always be welcomed, most of those we spoke to feel that they have the sufficient resources and expertise to fulfil their own role but lacked confidence that others were capable of fulfilling their functions effectively.

The report concludes that while the Inventory and the policy protections which exist around it are functioning as intended, a number of changes could improve its working, provide greater clarity both in terms of designation and guidance for those working with battlefields, manage battlefield archaeological impact more effectively and thereby promote a greater confidence in the system.

There will always be differences of opinion on the protection and management of emotive heritage assets such as battlefields. It is hoped that the changes proposed in this report should help to narrow the debates and engender greater confidence in the Inventory as an effective tool in the management of Scotland’s historic battlefields.

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