A briefing note published by the Institute for Archaeologists reported that local authority archaeology provision has seen an 18% decline in posts since 2008. Now it has emerged that another local authority archaeological service is under threat from a review of the service. Usually the current management speak for the intention to impose cuts. This time the provision under threat is in the historic County of Cheshire and the city of Chester itself, famous for its medieval shops and remains of the Roman City and Legionary Fortress of Deva. Chester is one of just five urban centres designated for their outstanding archaeological value under the Ancient Monuments Act.
Campaigners suggest that the clear and present danger to the future of the service and its employees lies in the introduction to the Council’s consultation which comes in the form of a publicly accessible service user survey. This states “This review came about as a result of major service restructuring within Cheshire West and Chester Council, and as a result of current budgetary pressures facing all councils, which have led to the need for services to be delivered in new ways, while meeting the needs of their customers.” http://www.surveygizmo.co.uk/s3/1781078/491dbbd25b24
The Institute for Archaeologists paper also noted that local authority archaeology posts continued to decline at a rate of 2-3% per annum and if the service review in Cheshire leads to cuts, as seems likely given the precedents elsewhere, the impact will not just be on the Archaeology Planning Advisory Service (APAS) which administers Cheshire’s Historic Environment Record. That is the database of historical and archaeological data which should be the basis of all heritage considerations in the planning system, access to which is required under the National Planning Policy Framework. Adding to the complexity of the budgeting problems is the fact that APAS is a shared service involving the budgets of Cheshire West and Chester (CWAC), Cheshire East (CEC), Halton and Warrington councils.
As a measure of what is at risk if the service is degraded the Cheshire HER was cited as a model in the 2010 English Heritage study of HER practice with Robert Edwards of Cheshire County Council saying
“…having access to the Cheshire HER, the quality and simplicity of access to designation information has been invaluable and greatly influenced my working methods. It has also enabled me to access a wider range of information, allowing a greater understanding of the relationship of historic buildings and an areas development.”
Also under threat is the Chester Historic Environment Team [HET] which is responsible for the management, interpretation and public access to urban archaeology in the historic City of Chester itself. The HET also helps to deliver archaeology courses at the University of Chester.
Responding to the prospect of job cuts in the service in early 2014 Dr Mike Heyworth of the Council for British Archaeology told the Council “…we believe that further cuts to APAS and Historic Environment Team will severely undermine the ability of the Council to fulfill its statutory duty to heritage across the region.”