2. Newbury - The Archaeology Bypass

A talk given to Archaeologists and Development, Salisbury Museum, 14th June 1997

by Jill Eisele, Third Battle of Newbury

Thank you for inviting me here today. I'm delighted to be here.

My name is Jill Eisele. I've lived in Newbury for nearly 8 years and feel as if I've spent 15 years campaigning against the bypass.

I'm a teacher, but my involvement in the campaign has been an incredible learning experience. Eight years ago, I thought that AONBs were protected from development; that English Nature, English Heritage and the National Rivers Authority stood fast against the threats of large scale development... I also thought that police were nice men in helmets, who always told the truth. Now I know better.

I live three miles from Newbury and have to cross the torn and ravaged landscape that is rapidly becoming the Newbury Bypass. It is an immensely depressing experience. The heritage, archaeological, National Trust and nature sites that are being bulldozed at Newbury enjoy protection. They were sites of national importance, and the custodians of these sites are English Heritage, English Nature, and the National Rivers Authority. These government bodies are supposed to be looking after our cherished, but finite countryside. I feel immensely let down by them. Maybe I was expecting too much of them. Perhaps the system itself is at fault. They all seem to be colluding with the Government in an elaborate farce.

I assume quite a few people in the audience know quite a lot about English Heritage. I'd like to give you my view of them in relation to the Newbury Bypass.

There were three areas of interest to English Heritage on the bypass route.

  1. Donnington Castle - a scheduled ancient monument.
  2. The two Civil War battlefield sites - 1643 and 1644.
  3. The archaeological sites.

1.Donnington Castle

The Castle, a scheduled ancient monument, is 500 metres from the bypass route. It occupies a prominent site overlooking Newbury and was one of the central sites of the 2nd Battle of Newbury.

In 1988, English Heritage did not raise an objection to the bypass in relation to the castle. In 1990, they objected to a proposed village development that was going to be further away than the bypass. This is what they said about the castle. "The castle is a wild and isolated monument and if its sense of mystery, romanticism and grandeur are to be retained, its setting must be protected."

This was my first contact with 'the system'. I thought there was a degree of inconsistency here and said so at the 1992 Public Inquiry. At the same inquiry, which was largely about inalienable National Trust land which was wanted by the DoT for the bypass, I witnessed a curious outburst from the National Trust solicitor. At one point in the proceedings, he stood up, turned to the inspector and said, "Why don't we all go home,... the DoT has no intention of taking on board National Trust concerns... we're wasting public money."

Needless to say, my attempts to get English Heritage to think again in relation to Donnington Castle and the bypass were entirely unsuccessful. They did agree that PPGs 13 and 15 should have been more rigorously applied.

2. The two Civil War battlefield sites

My next encounter with English Heritage came in June 1994, when I read of the proposal for a register of battlefield sites. They said, "...the register will give new protection to England's battlefields... the register will confer material consideration status in any formal local planning process involving development or road construction."

The First Battle of Newbury site was on the list. The Second Battle of Newbury, which lay in the immediate vicinity of Donnington Castle, was listed as a proposed battle site. I was convinced that Newbury was going to be the first test case for English Heritage and the Government. I went along to the launch of the register - a grand occasion - where I put my question to the illustrious panel, who included Dr Andrew Brown, General Sir Martin Farndale and Jocelyn Stevens.

I asked them what they were going to do about Newbury. There were solemn faces and discomfort amongst the panel. I spoke to Jocelyn Stevens personally after the formal part of the meeting. He gave me his assurance that English Heritage would do their best to see that the intentions of the Battlefields Register were upheld. I was hopeful. The Battlefields Register seemed to be in line with DoE PPG13, which says that, "...development should also avoid impacts on historic parks and gardens in the English Heritage register historic landscapes and battlefields..." After much to-ing and froe-ing with English Heritage, Mr Stevens wrote to Mrs Jo Carter [another Newbury campaigner] on 13 September 1994 saying, "the proposed route directly damages only part of the site..." As somebody in this audience said not so long ago, "...it's like saying the road only damages a corner of Salisbury Cathedral..."

3. The archaeological sites

My final point regards the archaeological sites. This issue had been neglected by our campaign, but it proved to be, in some ways, worse than anything else because even at the public inquiry, really substantial concerns were being raised about the DoT's failure to assess the impact of the proposed road on potential archaeological sites. I'd just like to read a couple of excerpts from Paul Chadwick's (Berkshire County Council's archaeological officer) submission to the public inquiry. He said, "...the County Council has seen no evidence to suggest that the DoT have followed their own procedures to assess the effect of the Preferred Route on the heritage... it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the Kennet Valley in this vicinity is of national, even international importance for its archaeological and geological deposists of the late glacial and Mesolithic dates."

Another objection to the proposed route is documented in a proof of evidence presented to the public inquiry by Dr Andrew Lawson on behalf of Wessex Archaeology. From his document:

1. "...the Trust for Wessex Archaeology objects to its (Newbury Bypass) construction because insufficient survey work has been undertaken to ensure that all relevant sites of historic interest have been identified and no provision has been made for the preservation of potentially important elements of the cultural heritage."

3. "This trust and Berkshire County Council (Mr Chadwick) have been to considerable trouble to point out to the DoT that the potential for survival of important sites is extremely high in all parts of the proposed route, but that insufficient work has been undertaken to identify histroic sites along the preferred route...

I would have hoped that the DoT would have shown by example a responsible approach to the heritage, but it appears that in the case of the Newbury bypass even their own manual is being ignored..."

4.4 "Despite precedent, the DoT has failed to undertake such surveys along the Newbury bypass lines in accodance with the procedures defined in its manual. I would therefore ask the inspector to recommend to the Secretary of State that he rejects the cvurrent proposals to construct the Newbury bypass until such time as the established procedures are followed so that a true assessment of historical sites can be made and an appropriate response formulated."

The DoT's response to Paul Chadwick and Wessex Archaeology says it all:

"The Department has consulted English Heritage at all stages of the scheme development... That organisation has confirmed that there are no known sites affected by the line of the Western Bypass... The requirements of the Manual of Environmental Appraisal only relate to known sites... The Department notes Mr Chadwick's references to areas of high archaeological potential, but is not aware that the designation has any national status... The Department is not insensitive to the need for excavating and recording archaeological evidence that may be affected by new road construction... However, its powers to provide financial assistance for rescue archaeology are strictly limited... The Department cannot contribute to the cost of investigating sites affected by road schemes..."

In 1988, there was no attempt to make a proper evaluation of what they were likely to find on the line of the bypass route. In the case of Newbury, it was only after the line of the route had been approved that Wessex Archaeology were commissioned by the DoT to prepare a report detailing the archaeological implications of the proposed route. The conclusions of this report were published in 1994 - six years after the public inquiry!

The report confirmed what Mr Chadwick had suspected. By this time, the 1990 PPG16 was in force, whereby archaeological sites are divided into four categories of importance. Sites of national importance - the highest designation - are, according to the manual, usually scheduled ancient monuments or monuments in the process of being scheduled. The Ancient Monuments Act of 1979 offers a greater degree of protection to Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Of the nine sites identified in the Wessex Archaeology document, one was deemed to be of national importance. So we were anxious to find out if this site at the Lambourn Valley was going to be recommended for scheduling by English Heritage. Excavation at the site produced 445 pieces of worked flint forms attributable to the Mesolithic period, and 84 pieces of burnt flint. A possible hearth stone was also recovered. Analysis of the worked flint showed that the assemblage was in situ. Wessex Archaeology determined that engineering works to cross the river at this point would entirely destroy the site.

The Highways Agency weren't too keen on the Wessex Archaeology document. They decided to seek a second opinion and approached a so-called independent archaeological consultant, Dr John Samuels. Even his report, which was a light-weight document, concluded that the Lambourn site was of national importance.

We were convinced that the requirements of PPG16 would surely apply. It says: "...sites of national importance are usually scheduled ancient monuments or monuments in the process of being scheduled..." We wrote to English Heritage and asked if and when the site would be scheduled. Jocelyn Stevens replied on 8 November 1995, "... the power to schedule is discretionary... scheduling itself does not guarantee long term preservation... as set out in PPG16, long term preservation is our generally-preferred option whether or not a site is scheduled. Any route for the bypass would be likely to encounter a variety of archaeological remains, including some of national importance... there would be little purpose in arguing for the established line to be changed in order to avoid one set of archaeological sites, only then to have to respond to a different set of sites... we are not therefore, advising the Secretary of State that the site should be scheduled."

So it seems that scheduling, PPG16, 15 or 13, or the Battlefields Register offers nothing in real terms when large-scale, government-sponsored development wants the land. I would suggest that only National Trust inalienable land is actually protected under the law. All other sites are vulnerable and their protection depends as much on political whim as anything else.

So then, who are we to blame? English Heritage, for failing to protect our English heritage? The planning system, for being so full of holes that PPGs 16, 15, etc., etc., are meaningless? Or, the Government, for setting up this elaborate charade? English Heritage is obviously not powerless, but in the case of Newbury, they seemed painfully reluctant to use their powers. They can, and must, take a lead in reforming the system so that proper consideration is given to our irreplaceable heritage sites. It is simply not good enough for them to hide behind convoluted excuses. At present, English Heritage is like a tiger without claws. The tiger is fed by the tax payer. I am one tax payer who is fed up with statutory bodies like English Heritage taking out full page ads in national papers saying jolly things about Stonehenge and slate quarries. I'd like to hear them admit their failings at Newbury and to take a lead in reforming the system so that heritage and environmental considerations are made real priorities in the planning process.

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