The Delapre Golf Club in Northampton is at the center of a growing row over apparently unauthorised excavations on part of the registered Battlefield of Northampton. The works which seem to have been undertaken to build a new car park for the center, was spotted by members of the public who, knowing the historical importance and environmental sensitivity of the site, contacted Northampton Borough Council and demanded that the work be stopped immediately.
Councillor Tim Hadland, Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and planning told the Northampton Chronicle and Echo that, as a result of the reports, Council officials had contacted the Golf club management on Wednesday [21 January] and demanded an immediate halt to the work.
“We met with the Golf Centre management following reports of unauthorised work being carried out near the club house.” Councillor Hadland said, adding
“The Golf Centre has been informed that any works will need planning permission and the Golf Centre has 14 days to submit the necessary paperwork for the council to consider.”
The Golf Club had previously applied for planning permission for the car park, but had withdrawn the application after the Battlefields Trust and others had pointed out that the site was within the area of the Registered Battlefield and would require a full archaeological evaluation. The Northampton Chronicle and Echo also reports that shortly after the initial planning application the golf club’s general manager Greg Iron had claimed that the new car park would not require any excavations.
“It would be done just by removing top soil. So we’d love to do it, but if we have to spend an awful lot of money on archaeological digs, it may scupper our plans.”
The latest controversy over the battlefield will come as an acute embarrassment to Northampton Council which itself faced criticism for apparently promoting the building of football pitches on another part of the registered Battlefield at Eagle Drive. As a result of pressure from English Heritage and local campaigners from the Battlefields Trust, the Council funded and adopted a conservation plan for the site as recently as July 2014. Indeed, what seems to be a clear failure of Northampton Council’s planning and enforcement system may also make the calls to put the battlefield back on the English Heritage “At Risk” register even louder. It was only taken off the register with the adoption of the conservation plan.
The chances of the golf club getting planning permission for a car park should be slim. The National Planning Policy Framework states that damaging development on a registered battlefield should be “wholly exceptional”, which is usually taken to mean the development should be of national importance, for example, a major infrastructure project such as HS2. However, the damage has now apparently been done and it is likely that the Golf Club will argue that reinstating the site is impractical and disproportionate. Therefore planning experts suspect some sort of compromise is likely to be negotiated.
However, what will be of most concern to many battlefield campaigners is that this incident seems to highlight the fact that is that the status of registered battlefields is not backed up in Law. This means that, unlike damage to a scheduled monument, damage to a registered battlefield is not in itself an offence. Thus the worst that the Golf Center might expect is a rap over the knuckles for not complying with planning rules and, archaeologists and battlefield experts will hope, a hefty bill for retrospective archaeological work. That is if the spoil has not already left the site in which case the risk is some blameless development or landfill site elsewhere might inadvertently start to show up hitherto unexpected evidence for one of the first major battles of the Wars of the Roses in 1460.
Asked about the apparently unauthorised works and whether the organisation had taken any action a spokesperson for English Heritage told thePipeLine
“We are aware that some construction excavation works have taken place within the registered battlefield area at the Delapre Golf Club. We have notified Northampton Borough Council, who have responsibility for planning control and management of the land, and they are now looking into the matter. We have advised the council on the registered battlefield site for several years and will continue to offer advice regarding these recent works.”
The spokesperson also reaffirmed the National importance of designated battlefield sites saying
“English Heritage is confident that the importance of registered battlefields is recognised and the need for planning authorities and others to take them into account when considering development proposals is provided by The National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) which sets out that registered battlefields are designated heritage assets of the highest significance. They, and their setting, should be protected, enhanced, and permission for developments causing substantial harm should be wholly exceptional.”
thePipeLine also understands that the Battlefields Trust and local battlefield experts and environmental activists are taking a close interest in developments. Particularly as recent research has provided fascinating insights into the course and location of the battle and any damage to the site could put the integrity of future research in jeopardy.