A1(M) Kirby Hill Services: Developers to undertake major archaeological dig at site of controversial Welcome Break in Yorkshire

Developers of what has been called ‘Britain’s most controversial motorway service station’ must complete a major archaeological excavation of the site in Yorkshire before it can go ahead.

In 2021 outline planning permission was given for the new Welcome Break services on the A1(M) at Kirby Hill, near Boroughbridge, despite a long-running campaign against it.

The scheme had been rejected several times by Harrogate Council and planning inspectors since 1997, but two years ago was finally approved following a 14-day public inquiry.

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According to the Kirby Hill Residents Against Motorway Services group, Welcome Break now acknowledge that the dig is required before building work can start, as the area is rich in both prehistoric and Roman heritage.

Residents have campaigned since the 1990s against a new service station between Wetherby and Leeming BarResidents have campaigned since the 1990s against a new service station between Wetherby and Leeming Bar
Residents have campaigned since the 1990s against a new service station between Wetherby and Leeming Bar

York-based consultants AOC Archaeology have submitted a scheme to planning officers which involves digging 58 exploratory trenches on the 17-hectare site in the Vale of York, which is close to the Neolithic monumental landscapes of the Devil's Arrows and Thornborough Henges and the Roman roads and settlements associated with Aldborough Roman Town.

At the 2021 hearing, planning inspector David Rose ruled that archaeological significance was not a reason to refuse the development, despite the campaigners pushing for investigations.

Kirby Hill RAMS chair Gareth Owens said: “Local people, supported by our professional local archaeologist Dr Rose Ferraby, understand the historic and archaeological context of the proposed site. It has been a place of settlement and monumental meetings for over 5,000 years, with evidence from the Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman periods on and directly around the site.

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"Professional and local amateur archaeologists have made interesting prehistoric finds in the vicinity of the proposed site. We cannot sit idly by and watch our ancient history destroyed.”

The group has also requested community involvement in the dig.

Amateur archaeologist Geoff Harris, who has made finds of arrowheads and other flint tools in the vicinity of the site, said: “The archaeology at this site is part of the treasured

historic landscape including ancient routes between the Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge and the Thornborough Henges complex near Ripon, known as ‘The Stonehenge of the North’. This will be our only opportunity to ensure that whatever archaeology exists on this site is discovered and properly recorded before it is lost forever.”

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The group have also worked with Tony Hunt to complete an aerial drone survey of the land. There are also two protected buildings close to the site; Grade-II listed Skelton Windmill, built in 1822 and the Grade-I listed Church of All Saints, built in 986AD.

The developers successfully argued that government policy now requires motorway services to be located no more than 28 miles apart, and that the distance between existing sites on the A1(M) at Wetherby and Leeming Bar exceeded this.

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