City of York Council
2 February 2005
Germany Beck Proposal
Thank you for the advance notice of the provisional date for this application. This is much appreciated and I confirm that I would be grateful for a chance to put the case to conserve the battlefield at the meeting on Monday 7 March.
I have two questions:
1 I understand from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that councils have been encouraged to introduce a conciliation procedure. Does such as scheme exist in York? I would welcome the chance to discuss the reasons why the would-be developers deny us access to the site for our research. I have submitted copies of the various letters that I have written to Persimmon over the years asking that we discuss access to investigate the land. I believe there could be a fruitful discussion if a suitable mediation scheme existed even at this late stage.
2 The same source (ODPM) informs me that grants and rewards are paid to planning authorities that work within certain planning guidelines. Could you tell me if COYC is expecting to receive any monies in this distribution and what impact, if any, further delay at Germany Beck will have on the Council’s performance figures?
If I am permitted to address the Planning meeting, I intend to question whether it is reasonable to expect the developers to keep their word and stick to agreements or obligations placed on them. I wanted to give advance notice of this serious charge to give a chance to confirm the facts for the elected officers.
Based on the previous behaviour by the developers and their agents, I question if it is advisable to rely on the proposed, archaeological mitigation strategy which will require the developer to do the necessary investigative work before commencing any building work. I would argue that the necessary investigative work must be carried out before any sort of planning permission is granted.
Because the battle site lies on the access road proposed, the archaeological investigation is fundamental to the design of the site. The former must be completed before any permission is granted. I note from the Land Registry that the land on the original access route adjacent to the golf course is still held by a property company.
When dealing with the unknown, such as the archaeology of 100 years ago, it is important that those undertaking any investigative work are committed to discovery. On the advice of legal council and the Planning Aid organisation, I seriously question if this situation could apply once the developer holds any sort of planning consent. I therefore challenge whether the developer can be relied to carry out the spirit of the instructions issued by the City of York Council based on their past performance which I detail below.
I raise these questions in the light of my bad experiences with the developers and their agents throughout the planning process.
They were instructed following the 29 July 2001 meeting of the Planning Committee to consult with me to investigate the site. A meeting was convened by the COYC archaeologist and a plan made. However, I was not informed when the work was underway as had been agreed. I was, however, shown the site briefly as it was backfilled. The work itself was near but not at the agreed places.
I noted in earlier submissions that one report, referred to in the planning application, did not actually exist and the work had not been undertaken. Happily I was again tipped off when this work was eventually undertaken in October 2003 where I was able to speak to the developer’s archaeologist.
This meeting turned into a confrontation with the head of the archaeological contractors, Ann Finney and myself. It was agreed in front of a number of witnesses, that it would be good practice to use metal detectors to check the spoil being extracted as part of some work about to be undertaken on a revised hydrological plan. Yet again, we were not informed by the developer but were notified by locals and turned up. We were allowed to carry out some superficial work because the site manager was one of those present when the verbal agreement had been reached. We have not seen the results of any work from the metal that we handed to the investigating archaeologists.
During the Planning Committee’s site visit I was alarmed that the developer’s planning consultant, Michael Courcier, made a statement he would have know was wrong if he had read copies of letters sent to him (and repeated in my own letters to the developers). He claimed that nobody believed that this was the site of the battle of Fulford. A letter from English Heritage contradicts this same claim which is contained in their application.
Furthermore, the desk study for the original developers (July 1995) not only said that this area was the site of the battle and recommended that it should be the subject of further investigation. This inconsistency is also noted by the City Archaeologist in his report to the Committee. He also notes that the historic landscape assessment has been dramatically changed to contradict the earlier opinions expressed on behalf of the developers.
The public is entitled to expect a level of professional impartiality in all expert reports. However, the archaeological report that forms part of the present application was, in some respects, of such poor quality that I asked for it to be subject to a peer review. The expert, appointed with the help of English Heritage, was damming, perhaps unfairly so as there is some good work which does not relate to the battle site. The criticisms in this second opinion are also noted by the City Archaeologist in his report.
I have on many occasions asked for copies of information about sources of certain statements to be provided by the developers, without success. I was forced to approach the Local Ombudsman as the only way to apply pressure through COYC to gain access to some of the reports referred to in the original application. This allowed me to challenge the traffic study which was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by one that is couched in very general terms. It raises the question of what might happen if I could also see the source documents for the environmental, flooding and traffic studies.
I have already supplied a copy of the one-way correspondence with the developer and their various agents which I would categorise as tardy, unhelpful and even discourteous. I have previously written to say that there was no objection on principle but only to the detail of the access road. However, their past performance has forced me to change my mind and oppose this application in principle.
It is sad that the developers have not been willing to cooperate. I believe it calls into question their suitability to be responsible for the conduct of any further research work related to the battle site investigation. With their cooperation, the work could have already been completed by the Lottery-funded team. I question their motives for refusing us access and have serious doubts about their suitability to undertake the specialist mitigation work proposed by the City Archaeologist.
I would be very grateful if you would make the members of the Committee aware of my misgivings as I will not have time to detail them on 7 March.