[Header Image: thePipeLine]
by Andy Brockman
Q: When is an internationally important battlefield site not an internationally important battlefield site?
A: When it is treated as a local planning issue
thePipeLine investigates allegations that some of the documents lodged in support of a controversial plan to build a test track for autonomous vehicles on part of the Bosworth battlefield, where Richard III was killed, are not fit for purpose.
At the time of writing the Bosworth in Leicestershire is one of the UK’s least redeveloped and most recognisable battlefields. Even the Battlefield of Hastings had a rather large medieval Abbey plonked down on top of King Harold’s position, ruining the battlefield archaeology and the sense of what the site was like on 14 October 1066. But like Hastings, and Culloden in Scotland, the battle which took place just off a Roman road in rural Leicestershire on 22 August 1485 is central to the history and to the culture of the UK. Bosworth is both the site of the death of the last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III, and the setting for the climactic scenes of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It is at Bosworth that Shakespeare’s Richard, the personification of a witty, Machiavellian, evil King is first confronted by the ghosts of his victims on the eve of battle and then dies in rage and despair offering his Kingdom for a horse. However, amid less homicidal, and currently unproven claims of similarly Machiavellian tactics on their part to limit criticism, a new Battle of Bosworth is brewing as heritage regulator Historic England, Leicester County Council and consultants Barton Willmore all stand accused of failing to apply a key tests set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and of ignoring the policy objectives in Leicestershire County Council’s own conservation plan for the battlefield, when framing and considering a controversial application to build a test track for autonomous vehicles which impinges on part of the registered battlefield. Critics of the plan also claim that so much new archaeological information is emerging about the battle that the planned track could even damage parts of the battlefield which have yet to be recognised and included in the registered area and damage forever the open and rural nature of the site.
The £26 million development plan, submitted by Horiba Mira Ltd, is an extension to an existing technology park and includes a 15000m2 test track including a 300m wide test area with approaches half a kilometer long; 1900m2 of service and storage hard-standing; a two story control building and another single story store.
Horiba Mira also claim that the project will create over 1500 jobs, both at the site and in the local economy. However, in a less than subtle hint to the council that if the plan is refused Horiba Mira might go elsewhere, the planning statement also states that planning permission for the new test track would “protect” the 25 jobs which already exist at the site.
However, critics of the scheme, which include the national expert charitable body, the Battlefields Trust and the Richard the Third Society, as well as many members of the public, argue that the scheme would be highly damaging to the nationally important registered battlefield and attempts to promote the site as a heritage destination as part of a Richard III trail including the Kings grave in Leicester Cathedral.
The initial argument centers on the definition of harm in the National Planning Policy Framework which governs decision making in the planning system.
Paragraph 194 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, published by the Government in July , states,
194. Any harm to, or loss of, the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting), should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of:
a) grade II listed buildings, or grade II registered parks or gardens, should be exceptional;
b) assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.”
and critics of the scheme argue that the development of what is currently undeveloped grassland and arable fields into a high tech test facility which is “partially located within the Battle of Bosworth registered battlefield” as Historic England states clearly in its advice, would indeed lead to the undoubted loss and damage to the setting of the designated battlefield.
As Historic England admit in their advice that the test track and its infrastructure would have “a considerable and physical presence in the landscape and would alter the rural character of part of the battlefield.”
The critics of the plan argue that this is language which shows that the test track would do substantial harm to the registered battlefield as defined in the NPPF and it follows that the “wholly exceptional” test should be triggered. Instead, while admitting that the organisation had doubts about the project on heritage grounds Historic England concluded that if the appropriate mitigation was undertaken the harm to the site was manageable and acceptable in heritage terms when weighed against the public benefits of going ahead.
Critics of the planning application are concerned therefore that while the application clearly involves the permanent loss of part of the registered battlefield and the considerable visual impact admitted by Historic England, paragraph 194 is not actually quoted in the planning statement supporting the application which was authored by consultants Barton Willmore.
Neither is the paragraph discussed in any detail by Historic England and the Leicestershire County Archaeologist in their submissions to the planning committee, if only to eliminate it.
Instead, all three fall back on a weaker test also set out in the NPPF which Historic England describes to the council planners in this way,
“Clear and convincing justification for the development proposal must be identified by your authority to outweigh the level of harm to the significance of the battlefield (NPPF paragraph 194). It is for your authority to decide if the public benefits outweigh the harm caused (in accordance with NPPF paragraph 196).”
With that in mind, Historic England’s advisory letter submitted to the council over the signature of Dr Andy Hammon, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England’s East Midlands Office, offers the opinion that [our italics],
“Heritage assessment has demonstrated the development proposal would cause some harm to the significance of the registered battlefield. Clear and convincing justification needs to be identified by the local planning authority to ensure the level of harm that would be caused is outweighed by the public benefits.”
The letter adds,
“Historic England recognises the substantial public benefits of the development proposal.”
While Richard Clark, the Principal Planning Archaeologist at Leicestershire County Council has submitted a similar opinion stating that,
“I am confident that the implications and potential impacts of the proposed development scheme have been thoroughly assessed. Notwithstanding the likely impacts of the scheme upon the know and anticipated historic environment (please refer to the submitted ULAS desk-based assessment for a detailed summary), we can now recommend approval of the current application subject to conditions to secure a suitable programme of post-determination further investigation and subsequent mitigation.”
For critics of the handling of the application these comments which appear to endorse the application are a further cause for concern.
It is argued that it is not Historic England’s job to appear to endorse or support a commercially driven application.
Instead it is suggested that the case for the public benefits of any planning application is more correctly a matter between the applicant, and the Planning Authority, in this case Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council.
Here it is worth noting that the controversy over Historic England’s response to the Bosworth application is the latest in a series of high profile planning cases where, critics argue, Historic England has found itself on the wrong side of independent expert opinion and facing accusations of an unwillingness to stand up to commercial big guns and local and national politicians. These include the failure to oppose the destruction of unique historic views across the Thames to St Pauls Cathedral which would have been blocked by the London Garden Bridge [which has since been cancelled amid accusations of cronyism and misuse of public money]; the failure to defend fully the setting of the nationally important “Stonehenge of the Iron Age” Old Oswestry Hill Fort; and the failure to oppose the Highways Agencies plan for a short road tunnel on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, a plan which is opposed by UNESCO and a roll call of leading independent experts in pre-historic archaeology.
thePipeLine asked Historic England why the “wholly exceptional” test was not shown to have been applied in this planning application, if only to ultimately reject it?
We also asked if Historic England was concerned that by not being seen to apply the “wholly exceptional” test to a planning application causing loss to one of the most iconic battlefields in the UK, the application may be judged to have failed to follow the process set out in the NPPF and may be vulnerable to Judicial Review?
A spokesperson for the heritage body gave us this response,
“After a thorough assessment of the application, we concluded that some harm would be caused to the site but recognised that the scheme could also bring public benefits. We did not consider that the proposal would cause substantial harm to the site. We act in an advisory capacity and it is for the local council, as decision maker in the planning system, to weigh the potential harm of any proposal against public benefit and make the final decision on a case. It is also for the local council to give notice of planning applications to statutory consultees and interested parties.”
The Battle of Bosworth Field – A Scene from the Great Drama of History: John Leech’s illustration parodies the Victorian attitude towards history.
[Public Domain via Wikipaedia]
The Battlefields Trust Goes Missing In Action
One of the most curious aspects of run up to the MIRA application appearing in front of the Hinckley and Bosworth planners is the absence until today [Friday 24 August 2018] of any comment about the scheme from the UK’s leading independent expert body dealing with the study and conservation of battlefields, the Battlefields Trust. The Trust and its local groups are usually vocal in defence of any encroachment on what are fragile and irreplaceable archaeological sites and the organisation usually works closely with Historic England.
The absence of any early consultation with the Battlefields Trust has led to suspicions among some observers that the Trust was deliberately sidelined as its response was deemed likely to be critical of the plans.
While thePipeLine has not been able to find any evidence to support this notion, it does appear from the citations in the planning submission that the consultation with stakeholders undertaken by consultants Barton Willmore was largely limited to those in the local area, Historic England and the Leicestershire County Council planning archaeologist.
Similarly there appears to have been little attempt to publicise the opportunity to comment on the council’s planning portal.
Indeed, it is a tribute to the importance of local journalism that had the Leicester Mercury not broken the story on 22 August the planning application might have gone through on the nod with no moderation from outside experts and stakeholders.
Asked if there had been contact with the Battlefields Trust the spokesperson for Historic England said,
“We have been in contact with the Battlefields Trust and although they’re not a statutory consultee, we understand that they knew about the proposed development at this site.”
However a spokesperson for the Battlefields Trust told us,
“The Trust was not aware of the planning application. Had it known it would have objected and, although now out of time, it will make an objection this week to the borough council.”
Asked to clarify Historic England’s comment that the Trust knew about the planning application the spokesperson for the Trust stated,
“The Trust was aware that Historic England was discussing an unidentified proposal impacting on the western side of the battlefield with a developer in April, but it was not clear at that stage what the development was, where it was or whether a planning application would be made or not. The Trust only found out yesterday [22 August 2018] that a planning application had been made and we are preparing a letter of objection now.”
When we put this to Historic England the spokesperson for the heritage body responded,
“I have just been in contact with [an officer of] the Battlefields Trust who was concerned that our comment below suggests that the Battlefields Trust had detailed knowledge of this planning application, which was not the intention.”
The spokesperson added,
“To reiterate, we [Historic England] were in contact with the Trust earlier this year and understand they were aware that a proposed development was in the early phase of discussion somewhere on the western edge of Bosworth battlefield. This is not to suggest that they had detailed knowledge of the planning application.”
Of course, this leaves open the question of why the Battlefields Trust were in the dark about the planning application until days before the plan goes before the council planners for approval and only found out about it from the media after the public consultation had closed.
Historic England “Mostly Harmless”
In his brilliant satire on all things English and bureaucratic, “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” Douglas Adams contrasts the devious tactics of English local authority planners with those of the Vogons who hide the plans for the demolition of the Earth in the local planning department on Alpha Centauri. Reading his prescient account one gets the feeling Adams would have relished the bureaucratic games and mangling of language generated in even a simple English planning application in 2018.
Indeed, while it is not fair to cast Historic England, or even consultants Barton Willmore in the role of the Vogons who “…wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters, ” Adams would almost certainly have particularly enjoyed the more convoluted definitions of the concept of “harm” to the battlefield upon which the Bosworth planning application hinges.
Addressing the way Historic England had approached its advice overall the spokesperson for the Battlefield Trust returned to the issue of perceived harm to the registered battlefield, telling thePipeLine,
“The measure of substantial harm is defined by the government. Presumably in this case Historic England judged the damage did not meet the threshold of substantial damage given this definition. If so, it would be correct in not applying paragraph 194. Ultimately this is a matter for Historic England to comment on rather than the Battlefields Trust.”
In fact the government guidance states,
“In general terms, substantial harm is a high test, so it may not arise in many cases…It is the degree of harm to the asset’s significance rather than the scale of the development that is to be assessed. The harm may arise from works to the asset or from development within its setting.”
The guidance adds [our italics],
“Similarly, works that are moderate or minor in scale are likely to cause less than substantial harm or no harm at all. However, even minor works have the potential to cause substantial harm.“
In the case of Bosworth, critics of the stance adopted by Historic England argue that substantial harm arises both from the track’s impact on the visual setting and on potential archaeology and it is here that the critics of the Historic England position argue that the archaeological importance and sensitivity of the area due to be developed may have been badly underestimated by the officers of Historic England who assessed the application.
As the Battlefields Trust put it in their press release,
“The Trust agrees with Historic England that the battlefield will be harmed by this development, but judges such harm would be toward the upper end of the scale for two reasons. Firstly the discovery of further battlefield archaeology in the form of a roundshot from the battle on the proposed development site is, the Trust would argue, of special interest in respect of the Government’s guidance (Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment) on assessing substantial harm to heritage assets, despite its limitations… The proposed development also sits in the vicinity of the crest over which the Fenn Lane approaches the battlefield and it is almost certainly where the rebel army first saw the royal army’s deployment. This too is arguably a point of special interest on the battlefield and the development, if it goes ahead, would have a serious impact on this important feature.”
Underlying this view is a report on fieldwork in the development area submitted as part of the planning process. In the report leading battlefield archaeologist Dr Glenn Foard, who led the work, told Historic England, consultants Barton Willmore, and the Hinckley and Bosworth planners,
“The area of the planning application lies largely if not wholly within the Bosworth battlefield, even though not currently wholly within the Registered Battlefield boundary. It also has the potential for important 1485 battle-archaeology and early modern skirmish archaeology.”
However, the advisory letter from Historic England appears to soften this opinion that the area of the registered battlefield might need to be extended by stating that [our italics],
“The spatial distribution of these artefacts would seem to indicate that the proposed CAV facility is located on the periphery of the Battle of Bosworth, and that the current extent of the registered battlefield in this area is broadly accurate.”
However, another expert on the Battle agrees with Dr Foard.
Dr Michael Jones, author of “Bosworth 1485-the psychology of a battle“, told thePipeline that the development is planned for precisely the location where the ongoing archaeological work at Bosworth is leading. Work which has already reinterpreted radically the course and even the location of the battle within the landscape of Leicestershire. Dr Jones also confirmed that, in his opinion,
“The location of the proposed development is increasingly recognised as being crucial to the understanding of the early stages of the battle. It is almost certainly where Henry Tudor arrayed the French mercenaries who won him the battle.”
Obviously, it would be inconvenient to say the least if, in the process of approving development on a registered battlefield, Historic England found that the historic battlefield needed to be extended, allowing an even larger area of said battlefield, and the incredibly sensitive battlefield archaeology it contains, to be damaged.
Bosworth Conservation Plan? What Bosworth Conservation Plan?
Critics of the planning application and the process are also concerned about two other aspects of the planning process and the documentation as submitted by Barton Willmore and assessed by Historic England.
It is pointed out that while Barton Willmore do point to pre-application discussions with various bodies, including Historic England, and also to consultations with the local community, like Historic England they somehow omitted to talk to the national independent, expert body, the Battlefields Trust who only found out about the formal planning application from a newspaper report in the Leicester Mercury on 22 August . Coincidentally the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth.
Critics also point out a further coincidence; that the full documentation and the statutory public consultation of what was bound to be a controversial planning application was only launched on the Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council website at the start of the Summer holiday period when interested parties are most likely to be away for at least part of the time and find it more difficult to respond.
A more substantial criticism of the work of Barton Willmore and of Historic England is the allegation that another key document is not properly integrated into the planning application and discussed in the kind of detail its content demands. That document is titled “The Bosworth Battlefield: The Way Forward”, and it is nothing less than the Bosworth Battlefield Conservation Plan.
Adopted formally by Leicestershire County Council on 13 September 2013, the conservation plan sets out a series of aims and objectives for the entire registered battlefield.
Of particular relevance to the planning application is Objective 8 which aims to,
“To retain and enhance the varied landscape character and special landscape qualities of the Bosworth Battlefield area.”
The plan seeks to achieve this by employing the following policies [our italics],
Policy 8.1 – Ensure sensitive management of the landscape, conserving its varied character
and local sense of place …”
“Policy 8.2 – In line with current national policy, ensure that topographic views across the Battlefield and within its setting are conserved and managed in order to protect significance enabling understanding and interpretation.”
“Policy 8.3 – In line with current national policy, protect the area from activity and development which undermines tranquillity – in particular noise, visual intrusion and night light spill.”
However, while on the face of it, the planning application for the test track seems to be in direct contradiction of all of these policies, the conservation plan is merely mentioned in passing in the Historic England advisory letter of 2 August 2018 and is not mentioned at all in the Barton Willmore planning statement.
In neither case do Historic England or Barton Willmore test the planning application against the specific objectives of the conservation plan, leading to the suggestion from critics that both documents are deeply flawed to the extent that they not fit for purpose.
The Bosworth Battlefield at Fenn Lane
[Daveleicuk CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikipaedia]
The Lie of the Land
There is a third significant document in the submission to the Hinckley and Bosworth planners which has also caused concern. That is the oddly named “TICIT proposal, Higham on the Hill: Assessment of impacts on the setting of Heritage Assets.” compiled by University of Leicester Archaeological Services.”
The thirty four page report admits that,
“The proposed development would transform an area of pastoral and arable land at the western end of the Registered Battlefield.
The proposed development will sever the western ridge from the Registered Battlefield.”
Later the report observes of the ridge, which, as Dr Foard and Dr Jones suggest, now seems so important in understanding the early dispositions of Henry Tudors army,
“No views from the ridge can currently be experienced as the ridge is private land with no public access, and therefore they make no contribution to any appreciation of the setting of the Registered Battlefield.”
Of course it is nonsense to suggest that because a vantage point is currently not available to the public it adds nothing to appreciation of the site. Apart from anything else the land owner could enable public access at any time if they so choose and the view remains even if the public has no access to it, for now at least.
Nonetheless, the report suggests that,
“A positive enhancement to the setting of the Registered Battlefield would be to make this view accessible through the use of computer modelling which, combined with the use of publicly accessible virtual reality would allow the topography and the probable form of the fieldscape at the time of the Battle of Bosworth to be appreciated more widely.”
In spite of the use of standard tables of landscape significance which are supposed to render landscape assessments objective and repeatable, this resorting to CGI does look very much like a desperate grab for a technological solution to an intractable real life landscape problem thrown up by the planning application.
Computer modelling has become the magic bullet which saves the test track and its infrastructure from having a “Moderate or Major” adverse impact on the setting of the Bosworth battlefield. Such modelling, the report argues, would instead represent a “Large beneficial impact” and as a result the assessment is able to conclude that,
“By combining the Large beneficial impact on the Moderate or Major adverse significance of the impact of the proposals on the asset, the residual impact is considered to be reduced to a Minor or Moderate adverse significance.”
But the key point is that once again, in none of this complex, objective, table driven analysis is the Bosworth Conservation Plan referenced and the plan does not even appear in the landscape assessment’s bibliography.
The critics argue that these collective failures to reference such a key document are so egregious that it follows that if Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council use these documents as the basis of a decision to approve the planning application that decision could be subject to judicial review as a consequence on the ground that a directly relevant, publicly adopted policy was ignored.
Oh and by the way, among the companies and organisations credited as being consulted in the Bosworth Battlefield Conservation Plan – Appendix A – Annex 1, item 42, are a significant local tech firm called MIRA, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and English Heritage, predecessor to Historic England.
Perhaps, Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy style, the three bodies lost their copy of the Bosworth Conservation Plan because it was stored in a locked filing cabinet, in a disused lavatory, behind a door marked “Beware of the Leopard.”
“If we don’t make a stand here at Bosworth what are we going to do?”
Summing up the problem which appears to lie at the core of the current controversy the Battlefields Trust commented,
“Fundamentally the NPPF fails to protect battlefields as the threshold for substantial harm is so high. This potentially leads to incremental erosion of registered battlefields through piecemeal development; a succession of ‘less than substantial harm’ applications can be passed which together may represent ‘substantial harm’ but in themselves do not reach this threshold.”
While Dr Jones placed the potential loss to the registered battlefield in a national context, telling thePipeLine that, far from being a local planning issue where the development would cause such less than substantial harm,
“This is one of the most important locations in our entire national heritage and it is absolutely crucial to make a stand. In fact if we don’t make a stand here at Bosworth what are we going to do? We should be preserving and promoting it.”
Avoiding A Heritage Car Crash
At the time of publication the planning committee of Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday [28 August 2018] to determine the planning application, which the council’s Acting Head of Planning has recommended the Councillors approve.
However, if the strength of feeling on Social Media is anything to go by, not to mention the reports that expert bodies and interested parties are making up for lost time by bombarding Councillors, and even local MP’s with submissions; and with comments regarding the planning application on the council website now numbering well over one hundred and fifty [with none in support]; the council may yet end up going round in circles like an autonomous vehicle on the Mira test track looking for a way out.
At least until some smart human driver intervenes avoids a heritage car crash and brings the whole thing to a safe halt.
Horiba Mira Ltd’s planning application is delivered to Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council
thePipeLine also asked Historic England if it was concerned that the organisation’s response to the MIRA test track application does not properly reference and test the application against the objectives of the Bosworth Battlefield Conservation Plan commissioned by the then English Heritage and Leicestershire County Council and adopted in 2013 and that this failure renders the response not fit for purpose.
A spokesperson for Historic England said:
“We do not agree with this suggestion and stand by our letter of 2nd August 2018.”
We also asked Horiba Mira Ltd’s consultant Barton Willmore the following questions,
1. While it does reference development policies DM11 and DM12 of the adopted SADMP DPD which seek to ensure that development proposals protect, conserve and enhance the historic environment, why does the planning statement and documents authored by Barton Willmore and submitted on behalf of Horiba Mira Ltd not test fully the application against the aims and objectives of the more detailed Bosworth Battlefield Conservation Plan , which was adopted by cabinet of Leicestershire County Council on 13 September 2013 and which is published on the Leicestershire County Council website?
This is a key document for the registered battlefield and it has been suggested to me that the omission of it from discussion renders the planning statement materially misleading to the Council officers and planning committee and thus not fit for purpose.
2. Why did the submission by Barton Willmore not discuss the issue of whether the development represented “substantial harm” or “loss” to the registered battlefield in terms of paragraphs 193-196 of the National Planning Policy Famework, when there clearly is loss to the heritage asset and the issue of substantial harm is arguable and should have been included if only to refute it?
3. Why was a key national expert body and stakeholder, the Battlefields Trust, which works closely with Historic England, not included in the consultation prior to the planning application being submitted?
5. Is Barton Willmore concerned that, if the planning application proceeds in its current form, Barton Willmore’s omission of any discussion of the Battlefield Conservation Plan and failure to discuss whether the application would represent “loss” or “substantial harm” to a heritage asset in terms of paragraphs 193-196 of the National Planning Policy Framework could render the decision vulnerable to judicial review?
A spokesperson for Barton Willmore responded,
“Check out the planning app on the Hinckley and Bosworth Council that features several archaeological assessments/surveys covering all of the information you are after.”
Readers will decide if that was an adequate response to the serious questions raised about the company’s work on what one of those same reports, submitted by the company on behalf of its client, admits is a site of international importance. That is the registered battlefield of Bosworth, the location of the compelling and bloody finale of England’s very own Game of Thrones.