Action threat over fears of lost heritage as buildings bulldozed
Several sites have been identified where cash-strapped builders have left archaeological digs and projects incomplete, leading to worries that irreplaceable evidence is being lost as the bulldozers move in.
Archaeologists employed by South Yorkshire’s four councils said the problem was now so widespread that they had been forced to call in colleagues from their enforcement departments to remind firms of their responsibilities.
Conditions are attached to most major planning consents which oblige the developers to engage the services of private archaeology firms to survey and catalogue any finds on building sites before work begins.
This is overseen by a planning authority’s own archaeological service, with staff keeping a record of which firm is carrying out work on which site, and signing off when the obligations have been fulfilled.
Particular problems with the process have surfaced in South Yorkshire after some private companies, including Sheffield University-based Arcus, disbanded – leaving some sites unsurveyed and archaeological work half-finished.
Dinah Saich, the principal archaeologist at South Yorkshire Archaeology Service (SYAS), which covers Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley, said archaeology was often not the “first thing” on firms’ minds.
She added: “In any planning case there are a number of conditions attached and the reason councils have enforcement officers is that things can go wrong at any stage of the process.
“We are now having to work with the enforcement teams at councils in certain problem areas, particularly in cases and on sites where the developer can’t easily be tracked down.”
According to a recent report written by South Yorkshire Archaeology Service staff, one site is currently of major concern, because the company developing is not responding to attempts to negotiate.
The report says: “Enforcement officers have been assisting SYAS with a number of cases where planning conditions are outstanding, but unfortunately the developers of one scheme cannot be reached and it is unlikely that this project will now be completed.
“We continue to liaise with Sheffield University over these and other projects that require completion,
“The Department of Archaeology is investigating whether research funding can be obtained to see some of these excavations and building recording projects through to completion.”
According to the report, the scheme where developers cannot be contacted is particularly important because is covers the site of the city’s former Sylvester Wheel.
The wheel, which was in Sylvester Street, close to the city centre, was used for grinding edge tools, and represents an important part of the city’s industrial and toolmaking heritage.
Ms Saich said: “The problem is that developers had signed up with providers like Arcus and we are now having to try and persuade them that they need to sign up with someone else to meet their obligations.
“Often companies think that because they haven’t heard anything about the archaeology, in some cases for a few years, that they just don’t need to finish the project, and don’t need to spend money on it.
“But every site that has not been properly surveyed is an issue for us and work must be seen through.”