Committee Report NSC

Item 7.3

 
 


North Somerset Council

 

REPORT TO THE Planning and Economic Development Policy & Scrutiny Panel

 

Date of Meeting: 16th March 2009

 

Subject of Report: Historic Environment record Officer Post

 

Town or parish: All

 

Officer/Member presenting:  Vince Russett                      

 

1.                Summary of Report

 

Explanation of the benefit of having a full-time post of Historic Environment Record Officer in the Economy and Regeneration Service

 

2.                Policy

 

The Corporate Plan 2008-11 aims 1 (Promoting life-long learning) and 3 (protecting and improving the environment) directly support this report and aim 2 (Enhancing health and well-being) indirectly

 

3.                Details

 

The purpose of this report is to explain the different roles of the Archaeological Officer and the Historic Environment Record Officer.

 

3.1       The North Somerset Archaeology Service

 

An archaeological service provides several functions, most of which naturally divide into those which are the responsibility of the Archaeological Officer, and those the responsibility of the Records Officer:

 

The Archaeological Officer (AO) is responsible for:

 

 

The Historic Environment Record Officer (HERO) is responsible for:

 

 

And both posts:

 

 

3.2       The Historic Environment Record

 

The Historic Environment Record (HER) is a record of all known archaeological, historical and heritage sites within North Somerset, both those Statutorily Protected, such as Scheduled Monuments and Listed Buildings, and those others of more local importance that will nevertheless be material considerations during applications for development.

 

The HER consists of a GIS-based computer record (containing details of approximately 8900 sites), a back-up paper record occupying some 30m of shelving, and a collection of around 15.000 air and ground-based photographs relating to heritage, a significant proportion of which have been digitised.

 

This HER is maintained primarily for the purpose of informing development control work, under government planning guidance in such documents as Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 ‘Archaeology and Planning’ (DoE 1990).

 

3.3       History of the current post

 

Previous to 2006, all the functions of the Service above were the duty of one officer, and due to the recognised problems with this approach (acute lack of staff resources necessary), funding for a temporary post, on a ‘pump-priming’ basis, was sought from English Heritage in 2004. This support was provided, and a post established, in 2006.

 

The HER is currently maintained by one fixed-term FTE post, employed by North Somerset Council, 50% funded on a diminishing basis over three years by English Heritage (EH), with 50% of the officer time working at BANES on a Service Level Agreement drawn up in 2006. The funding was provided in the expectation that (each of) the two authorities would ‘use its best endeavours to consolidate the post onto its permanent establishment at the end of the three year period’. The English Heritage investment in this post was £60,000 over the period. This post is due to expire in July 2009.

 

The HER Officer manages and provides data for among others, the archaeological officer, the conservation officer, development control officers, other council services such as the Green Infrastructure Team national bodies (such as Natural England and English Heritage), local businesses, community groups and the general public.

 

Despite the difficulties of a post split between two authorities (referred to in EH’s letter) (appendix 1), the achievements at North Somerset during this time have been very significant. Among the most significant have been:

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.4       Remaining issues with the HER

 

Significant issues remain with the HER, however. Work in the initial stages of the project indicated that, due to lack of resources for the SMR/HER from 1996 – 2006, approximately 11 years of work would be needed to bring the HER up to full compliance with national standards if the post continues to be 0.5FTE.

 

For the same reason, and despite the project so far, much of the Record contains information that is incomplete, out-of-date or inaccurate. This has the potential to have serious risk and cost implications for the authority (see 3.7 below)

 

3.5       Solutions to these problems

 

Maintaining a full-time post within the Economy and Regeneration Group would achieve the following:

 

 

 

 

3.6       Additional benefits of the post

 

Since 2006, the duty to maintain the HER has been transferred from the AO. This has meant that significant resources from the AO’s work programme have been able to be diverted to the involvement of the voluntary sector, through such programmes as CANS (Community Archaeology in North Somerset) with locally-based groups all over North Somerset, resulting in the active involvement of at least 250 volunteers, providing information that will feed back into the HER through programmes of field work, and increasingly, providing input into management plans for publicly owned open spaces, such as Cadbury Hill Local Nature Reserve in Congresbury and Yatton, and Dial Hill in Clevedon. 

 

This can produce work, that if commissioned from the private sector would have significant cost implications. For example, the work of one community group (Charterhouse Environs Research Team  - CHERT) between 2002 -2008 alone would have costed at approximately £350,000 if so commissioned.

 

This post significantly increases the potential to seek external funding of various kinds (such as, for example, the £2000 obtained for promoting and running Archaeology in the Park in summer 2008).

 

 

 

 

 

3.7       Risks

 

The primary risk to the authority is that if the post is not maintained, and the work on the HER is not continued, the lack of resources within the service to maintain the Record will rapidly see it return to the poor state of 2006.

 

Furthermore, as eventually the economic downturn reverses, if there is no post with experienced staff in place to respond, the costs of re-establishing the post will be large compared to continuing the post through the intervening period.

 

The provision of data from the HER which has not had the benefit of validation and updating risks not only the loss of heritage resources through lack of provision of accurate data to development control etc., but also potential risks of litigation, claims for compensation etc where data provided can be shown to have been inaccurate.

 

All these risks can be very significantly downgraded if the post can be continued.

 

4.                Consultation

 

Initial consultations have been with English Heritage, the government body responsible for HERs in England. Their (draft) response is attached (appendix 1)

 

5.                Financial Implications

 

The revenue costs involved in this project would, at 2009 costs, be

 

Per annum:

Salary + oncost                     £39,700

Software maintenance         £  1,000

Total                                        £40,700

 

Current budget                      £28,000

 

The fixed-term contract ends 31 July 2009.

 

Thus, for 2010-2011, an MTFF bid for £12000 (plus any inflation) will be required.

 

This, however, is offset to a certain extent by the capacity to charge for commercial trawls (potentially £1500 - £2000 pa); to draw in significant input from the voluntary sector (example in 3.6 above); and to seek external funding

 

6.                RISK MANAGEMENT

 

The opportunity in having an HER Officer is to very significantly reduce the authority’s risk of both loss of heritage resources, and of potential costs through enquiry / compensation, through improvement of both quality and quantity of data from the HER to inform planning decisions

 

7.                Equality Implications

 

There are no equality implications in this proposal

 

8.                Corporate Implications

 

Provision of this post will significantly enhance the quality and quantity of provided data for Development Control, Land Charges and other internal users of the HER service

 

9.                Options considered

 

No other options have been considered

 

Author

 

Vince Russett, Archaeological Officer, Economy and Regeneration Service

Extension 5464         vince.russett@n-somerset.gov.uk

Report: B:\D&E\Economy and Regeneration\Archaeology\Service development\Final\SPED Committ Report NSC.doc

 

Background Papers

 

Appendix 1: Draft letter from English Heritage regarding Historic Environment Record Officer post

 

 


Appendix 1: Draft of English Heritage letter

 

(It should be emphasised that this is a draft, but the matter was discussed at length with Rob Iles and Mel Barge, Inspectors for English Heritage, during February; the final letter is not expected to differ in detail)

 

Dear Sirs

 

Re: Continuation of HERO provision after July 2009

 

I am writing to ask for your Authorities commitment to funding the continuation of the Historic Environment Record (HER) Officer position.  As you know for the past three years English Heritage has been providing part funding towards the post shared between yourself and BANES.  When the post was first set up and agreed with both Authorities one of the conditions, 5(b) within the contract was that

 

‘The authority shall use its best endeavours to consolidate the post onto its permanent establishment at the end of the three year period.’

 

The post was set up to provide additional resource within the archaeological services of the authority.  This was due to recognition by English Heritage and the Authorities that this lack of resource had lead to the SMR becoming out of date and poorly maintained.  This has subsequently lead to difficulties for the Archaeological Officer to undertake Development Control work efficiently and thoroughly. 

 

Within North Somerset this was a serious issue due to the proposed major expansion of Weston-Super-Mare and other growth areas.  The enhancement of the SMR within the three years has subsequently helped with the formation of the Local Plan identifying areas of future expansion on the urban fringes and highlighting the likelihood of archaeological remains with in those areas identified for development.  This then gives developers forewarning of additional costs and allows early discussions to take place to find suitable mitigation to deal with the archaeological resource.

 

The post over the past three years has been successfully filled by two candidates first Stuart Cakebread and currently Sarah MacLean, both have worked hard to improve the SMR.  However there is still a lot more work needed to bring it up to national standards.  English Heritage is working with Local Authorities across the country to bring all SMRs up to a Historic Environment Record level.  This means additional datasets covering the whole historic environment will be added and maintained by the Officer.  This has already been started in North Somerset with the addition of Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and Registered Parks and Gardens.  This has meant that other departments within the Authority can use the SMR to inform on their specific areas as well as the archaeology.  The addition of the Listed Building data has meant the Conservation Officer can more easily access data which helps them with development control issues. To lose the post now would once more place the SMR in a very short space of time back in the position it was three years ago and take away what is becoming an essential resource for other departments within the Authority.

 

It has also been recognised that the split post between both authorities is not sustainable; as the officer is more widely known about there is a greater demand for their services and this has become more difficult to manage when one out of two weeks is spent in the other authority.  Developers asking for data, which they will soon be paying for, may have to wait longer than is necessary as the officer is not available to deal with the inquiry.  The work loads of the post holder have also increased within the authority putting more pressure on their time and making it clear that a full-time post in each authority would be more effective.

 

At this time we had expected the Heritage Bill to have been part of the current Legislative Programme, however this is now not the case.  One of the main changes to the current legislation would have been the compulsory requirement for a HER in every Local Authority.  As this was a major and very important change it was one of the first guidance notes to be produced with the Draft Bill.  Although this will not become Law in the short term we would encourage all Local Authorities to have a commitment to a HER managed by a full time HER Officer who has the skills and knowledge to update, maintain and extract data when requested.

 

We at English Heritage would like to see a commitment from the Local Authorities for the continuation of this post as full-time.  We understand that there will be a committee meeting later this month to discuss future budgets and posts within the authority.  We hope that this letter can be used as evidence of English Heritages support of this post and our expectation that having funded the post for the past three years that the Local Authority will now confirm it as a permanent position.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

Mel Barge

Inspector, English Heritage