Freedom of Information Request – Parish Council Carried out Work on Protected Archaeological Site

An archaeological survey carried out in 2017 during the construction of Henge Close revealed intriguing secrets of West Adderbury’s ancient past.  Between 3000 and 2000 BC a settlement of around 50 people constructed round houses and at least two wood henges on the Henge Close site.  Archaeologists were sure that further remains of this Bronze Age settlement would be found in the Milton Road field next to Henge Close, and they were proved correct by a further survey in February 2019.

This survey revealed an incomplete ovoid (circular) feature associated with a ditch (Ditch 903) in the south east corner of the field, as shown below.  Further excavation will be needed before we can know more about this exciting feature, but some have suggested that it may be a Bronze Age barrow.

In the words of Richard Oram, Planning Archaeologist at Oxfordshire County Council:

“The evaluation did record a number of archaeological features on the site including a circular feature, first identified from the geophysical survey, and a series of linear enclosures. The circular feature was not dated but is very likely to be a continuation of the significant prehistoric ritual site immediately east of this site. The evaluation phase of the significant Neolithic and Bronze Age features on the adjacent site also provided no immediate dating material. The dating for these features was obtained by carbon 14 dates following the excavation.

These features will be impacted by this proposed development, particularly by the soak away located within the circular feature and drainage linking into it.

The area of the circular feature and the footprint of the new dwelling will need to be subject to an archaeological excavation. It is usual for either the developer or their archaeological contractor to contact me to discuss this, I did highlight the need for further work to them in my email confirming our acceptance of the evaluation report but I did not get a response”.

In fact, the Archaeologist considered this “significant prehistoric ritual site” so important that he was initially reluctant to discharge Condition 5 of the planning permission.  Without this discharge, the Parish Council would not have been able to commence work on the football pitches.  Eventually, it was decided that Condition 5 would be discharged but with the proviso that the area of “highest archaeological value”, i.e. the circular feature, which falls outside of the pitch drainage area, would require further archaeological investigation prior to development.  This additional requirement was reflected in the June 2019 Decision Notice for Condition 5.

Fast forward to 1 May 2020, when the Parish Council’s contractors begin work on the Milton Road site, despite the lockdown still in force at that time.  This work involved stripping all vegetation, altering the overall site levels and installing drainage for the football pitches.  As we have already reported, Cherwell District Council confirmed that all three of these activities breached planning conditions: vegetation should not have been removed in the bird nesting season (Condition 18), site levels should not have been changed without submission and approval of a site level plan (Condition 8) and the Parish Council has not installed the approved drainage scheme (Condition 3).

Documents received as part of the recent Freedom of Information request have now revealed that the Parish Council also ignored the proviso to Condition 5, and have carried out groundworks in the area of the circular Bronze Age feature

In a letter dated 22 May 2020 to Parish Council Clerk Theresa Goss, Jane Law, CDC Enforcement Officer, states that:

“Condition 5 of the 2018 permission was discharged under 19/00124 /DISC and contained a planning note that any works outside the area identified for drainage on the D W Clark drawing 7777.2 within the south eastern corner of the field would require further archaeological investigation before they were carried out.

It appears that this area of the site has been disturbed during the ground works and so I would be grateful if you could provide confirmation that the County archaeologist has been contacted and agreed for this work to proceed.”

Diane Bratt, Parish Council Chair, replies on 25 May 2020.  Her statement confirms that work has indeed been carried out in the area of “highest archaeological value”.  However, she says that:

As the PC has only removed 200mm of topsoil from this area this would be outside the scope of archaeological interest, which begins at a level of about 300mm, so this amount of topsoil would be skimmed off in any archaeological investigation anyway. As agreed with CDC and OCC there is no intention to put drainage pipes or to go deeper in this area”.

The enforcement officer notes that “I will, however explain the work that has been completed in this area to Richard Oram at OCC and ask him to confirm his agreement”.

Did Adderbury Parish Council obtain the Archaeologist’s permission before carrying out work in this important archaeological area?  Well, since the Parish Clerk emails the enforcement officer on 6 June 2020 to say “Please be advised that the Parish Council has received verbal confirmation from Richard Oram that he has no issues in this activity as it does not affect any potential archaeology at such a shallow level”, we assume not.

Mrs Bratt’s response to the enforcement officer’s concerns essentially says, yes, we carried out work in an area we weren’t supposed to, but it doesn’t really matter because removing 200mm of topsoil won’t affect the archaeology. 

Regardless of whether any harm was done to this unique prehistoric site by the Parish Council’s work, it is not for the Parish Council, or Mrs Bratt, to make these decisions.  Oxfordshire County Council’s Archaeologist went to some lengths to ensure that this area of the site was protected, by adding a planning note to the Condition 5 discharge.  The Parish Council simply ignored this and just went ahead anyway, removing a layer of topsoil from this protected area.  The removed soil was then dragged to the northern end of the site to level the pitches area.

The planning conditions were set by CDC in order to protect West Adderbury’s wildlife and archaeology, and to avoid flooding to the surrounding properties.  We see the Parish Council’s utter disregard for any of these planning conditions as yet another example of their contempt for the residents of West Adderbury.  We have no confidence whatsoever that the Parish Council will abide by any of the other planning conditions set by CDC, or that CDC will take any action to enforce them.

The documents obtained via the FOI request show that CDC officers Jane Law and Sean Tilbury were aware of the work done by the Parish Council in this archaeologically important area of the site.  However, they decided to remove any mention of this issue from their response to the West Adderbury resident who had complained about the planning breaches (see below).  Had the FOI request not been placed, West Adderbury residents would be none the wiser that the Parish Council had “encroached into the “exclusion” area detailed on the approved plan”.

What else don’t we know about? 
More information from the Freedom of Information Request will follow shortly!
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