Contents Home Effects of Quarrying Viewing the Henges Friends of Thornborough Latest News Links


Amendment Planning Permission C2/92/500/53


This application is one that must necessarily be considered by the Planning Authority in the context of this being an application to carry out an act of industrial interference with international implications. See the assessment at paragraph 111.99 on page 55 of the application which states:

“It is clear from this assessment that the whole study area covers a landscape of great archaeological significance. It contains within its boundaries several Scheduled Ancient Monuments of recognised international importance, particularly The Henges, which include five of only six known Class II Henges in Europe”.

Interference with archaeological remains is also to be viewed in virtually every case, as the very converse of sustainable development. In so far as sustainable development means benefiting from what we have today but protecting it for future generations, the mere fact that it is proposed that there should be interference with the soil of the setting of The Henges means that that important principle would be breached.

The study area is 90 sq kilometres. In order that it cannot be suggested that we are seeking to protect the whole of the land and/or the archaeological remains in the 90 sq km area, we would point out that the area to which the planning application relates is in the detailed assessment area which is 12.25 sq kilometres immediately around Nosterfield Quarry.

Thus, in every respect the Planning Authority is dealing with a site of international importance and must be viewed as being of the premier of all classifications of policies in this particular context.


PPG 16, entitled “Archaeology and Planning”, guides a Planning Authority about many matters that are of relevance in connection with this particular application. But, although the applicants have employed an archaeologist to give a report, they are careful not to ascribe to the site the archaeological value which it deserves. For instance, as early as paragraph 1.2, they state their priorities namely:

“The site will be worked in a phased manner over a period of 4 years and restored progressively to nature conservation, agriculture and passive recreation after uses” (emphasis added). We suggest that, by phrasing the proposal in that way, they are impliedly conceding that what they destroy can never be replaced.


The Henges themselves are scheduled ancient monuments and thus have the protection of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The Setting, however, currently lacks such protection ~ although one of our aspirations is that an area which could be defined as “the Setting” will also be so protected.

No doubt there will be submissions made to you about the meaning of the word “Settings” in the instant context. We do not consider that we have to enter into that debate.

We contend that there is no doubt whatsoever that the application site falls within any definition or interpretation of “the Setting” of The Henges.

Thus we take issue with the approach adopted by the applicants in III.110. We consider that the Setting must include areas that are suspected or thought to have a direct historical or archaeological association with the scheduled monuments. We consider that the statement by the applicants we now quote is one that should be rejected by the Planning Committee. It is:

“In line with the common view of what constitutes the setting of a listed building, the applicants’ understanding of setting in this context is that it is primarily a visual concept and usually taken as views to and from an upstanding monument but also involving a balance between the nature of the monument and the proposed new development”.

What we do accept is the important statement made by the applicants at paragraph III.116, namely:

The landscape study has proved that the area of the proposed mineral extraction is sited within an archaeological landscape of great significance and cannot be viewed in isolation. The monuments and sites investigated for research purposes in response to development in the detailed assessment area clearly belong to a much broader landscape which has developed since the early Neolithic period with shifting foci of ritual significance in a sequence which has yet to be clearly understood”.

We consider that this statement also illustrates the points that we make in Section 7 of this submission.

We ask that the Committee give great weight to the admissions made by the applicant in paragraph III.122, namely:

“Given that the evidence suggests that only a small percentage of sites and features are visible through aerial reconnaissance, it is likely that the area of proposed extraction contains a number of currently unknown structures, features and deposits of archaeological importance”.

We also ask that the Committee should not lose sight of the fact that, if it grants this application, it will soon have to deal with a similar application for another part of the area that, no doubt, will also come within the definition of “the setting”. This is due to the information contained in paragraph III.2.83 under the heading of “Alternative Sites”, wherein the applicants make their intention clear, namely, that there will be a separate proposal for the long term extension to Nosterfield ~ although they do concede that they will have regard to the recommendations of a Conservation Management Plan for Thornborough Henges, sponsored by English Heritage. It is our aspiration that other developments should be subject to intense investigation as we have demonstrated in this case.


The applicants set out in paragraph 1.13 their guiding principles ~ but there is no mention of archaeology or the national history. Bearing in mind Tarmac’s public claim to be a supporter of archaeology, one might have expected that the company would have paid more attention to the international historical importance of the site.

The emphasis is, instead, upon restoration as is seen by a number of the opening comments. In Section III, there is reference to the Local Development Plan and to certain national, regional and local guidance, but there is no mention of PPG16. This omission indicates that that concern for this country’s heritage does not and has not formed a sufficiently important element in the preliminary approach of the applicant to this matter.

In its early introduction, printed specifically in heavy type (in the authoritative “Encyclopaedia of Planning Law”) so as to ensure Planning Authorities give the matter exceptionally great weight, PPG16 states:

Archaeological remains should be seen as a finite, and non-renewable resource, in many cases highly fragile and vulnerable to damage and destruction. Appropriate management is therefore essential to ensure they survive in good condition. In particular, care must be taken to ensure that archaeological remains are not needlessly or thoughtlessly destroyed. They can contain irreplaceable information about our past and the potential for an increase in future knowledge. They are part of our sense of national identity and are valuable both for their own sake and for their role in education, leisure and tourism”.

Few of the factors specified in the previous quotation are given sufficient weight by the applicants or their advisors.

Paragraph 8 of PPG16 states:
“Where nationally important archaeological remains, whether scheduled or not, and their settings are affected by proposed development there should be a presumption in favour of their physical preservation”.

Almost every word of this quotation – which is Government policy and which we submit should be followed by the Planning Authority – is of importance, especially:

  1. These are not just a nationally important archaeological remains but, as stated above, are internationally important.
  2. We are addressing, not simply the Scheduled Monuments, but also parts which are not scheduled (although the enormous list in Annex A “Landscape Study Area: Gazetteer of known and potential sites” to the report of Field Archaeology Specialists Limited [Appendix VII] to the application shows the importance of the area).
  3. The setting (however it is to be defined in this particular area) is as important as the Scheduled Monuments themselves.
  4. Thus the Planning Authority must approach this matter on the basis that there will be a presumption in favour of the physical preservation of the settings as well as that of the Scheduled Monuments.


Reading between the lines of the applicants’ submission to date, we conclude that they will argue that archaeological remains can be discovered and examined as part of the surface stripping procedure that is a precursor to quarrying the sand and gravel deposits. Paragraph V.60 admits that the full significance of the area only becomes apparent following soil stripping but goes on to make the astonishing statement that:

“In this case, the question of preservation in situ is no longer relevant, since planning permissions to extraction will already have been granted”.


It is pointed out in Paragraph 13 of PPG16 that:
“Excavation means the total destruction of evidence (apart from removal of artefacts) from which future techniques could almost certainly extract more information than is currently possible.

Bearing in mind that it is acknowledged throughout the application that much remains to be discovered about the way of life of people visiting or living near The Henges, we urge that the Planning Authority recognises that the long term preservation of the setting of the monuments may well, as the PPG16 says, “allow future techniques which could almost certainly extract more information than is currently possible”.

We ask the Planning Committee to accept that the historic landscape that has endured for several thousand years would (if this application is granted) be destroyed within months.

This contradiction of sustainability is expressly conceded by the applicants in paragraph 111.101 of Section III of the Supporting Statement where it is stated:

“The ritual importance of this area was subsequently confirmed by the construction of the Henges. Archaeological research and field work is beginning to place the Thornborough Henges within their context through the recognition of areas of ritual significance in their immediate vicinity and with evidence for domestic sites further away such as to the East of Chapel Hill and to the North on Nosterfield Quarry”.

We trust that the Planning Authority will share our concerns on behalf of future generations (see III.107) that at least three barrows and the western end of the Thornborough Cursus have already been destroyed by quarrying ~ as have pit groups, pit alignments, cemeteries and field systems, although in the majority of these cases some archaeological record was made.

The applicants say in paragraph V.61:
“Planning policy provides that if preservation in situ is not warranted, then the archaeology must be preserved by record. This is a term for the excavation of the archaeological interest, analysis of the data, storage of the artefacts and reporting of the results. It is less desirable than preservation in situ, but may be justified especially if the condition of the archaeology is deteriorating”.

But there is no suggestion ~ other than in relation to a peat deposit, which has been forming for hundreds if not thousands of years ~ that the condition of the buried archaeology on Ladybridge Farm should be left in situ for future techniques to investigate, in accordance with Government guidance. This might involve methods that would not even require excavation at all. It could be undertaken by improved underground detection techniques and other methods that have yet to be devised.


We are fully aware that the applicants (and indeed the County Council) consider that a quarrying after-use strategy based upon the Swale and Ure Washlands Project is likely to become a future asset in the region or the locality. We ask the Committee to consider that, despite the numerous references made by the applicants to this project, there is a material contrast to be drawn.

The Washlands Project is based upon the concept that redundant permitted gravel quarries can best be replaced by an artificial Norfolk Broads type of landscape offering recreational benefits in compensation for the lost farmland.

This may be a laudable vision for a low-value landscape ~ but most emphatically not when its implementation involves the destruction of a cultural treasure trove which has taken thousands of years to create and which is recognised to be of international and national significance.


Regional and Local Planning Policies

One of the main thrusts of PPG16 is stated in paragraph 14 to be:
“The key to the future of the great majority of archaeological sites and historic landscapes lies with Local Authorities, acting within the framework set by central Government, in their various capacities as planning, educational and recreational authorities, as well as with the owners of sites themselves. Appropriate planning policies in development plans and their implementation through development control will be especially important”.

This PPG was issued in November 1990. The relevant part of the structure plan was first published in 1979 and the relevant part of the Hambleton Local Plan was first published in 1999.

At those dates, the significance of the setting of Thornborough Henges was not even recognised. Quite apart from anything else, this underlines the manner in which the science of archaeology has moved on.

The relevant structure plan policy is E5 which states that:
“Development proposals which could result in damage to, or destruction of, sites of archaeological importance will normally be refused”.

We contend that this is a sufficient material consideration in its own right to justify, indeed, ensure, refusal of the application.

The actual wording of the Hambleton Local Plan hardly takes into account the particular status of Thornborough Henges and their setting.

Policy HH20 allows development where there is evidence that important archaeological remains may exist:
“…. Subject to a… requirement that any archaeological remains are preserved in situ by the careful design, layout and siting of the new development.”

In view of the importance of the setting this can hardly be applied to Thornborough and the only sensible consequence would be that the whole of the application site as part of the setting must be preserved in situ.

It is noteworthy that although the plan identifies, for instance, historical battlefields, it does not even mention Thornborough Henges which, at the time of the preparation of the plan were Scheduled Monuments.

We contend that, in the context of the discoveries and understandings of the site during the last decade, there are powerful reasons to conclude that this site is so important for Hambleton District that it should not be allowed to be developed at all.

It is only in the last six years or so that the importance of Thornborough has been recognised, largely due to the research of Dr J.Harding. Indeed, it was only in 2003 that the appellation, “The Stonehenge of the North”, started to be used. As a result of a recognition of the immense importance of the Henges themselves, the entire prehistoric sacred area has achieved a prominence in local, regional, national and international terms not only in the context of the current desire to find links with our forebears, but also in its ability to facilitate our understand of the evolution of the early antecedents of this country.

It is because archaeologists now recognise that henges can be properly understood only by painstaking study of the landscape in which they were built that it has become vital to preserve for future study the surviving setting of any such enigmatic monument.

However, the extant planning policies were written before the importance of the Thornborough Complex was recognised. Thus, the planning policies do not currently give sufficient weight to the incredible importance of the site and it’s setting.

Quite apart from the relevant written planning policies, the Planning Authority is urged to take more note of the general national policies (PPG16) than might have been the case in other planning applications.


Paragraph 18 of PPG16 states that:
“The desirability of preserving an Ancient Monument and its setting is a material consideration in determining planning applications whether that monument is scheduled or unscheduled”.

Thus there can be no doubt that the requirement of Section 54A of Town and Country Planning Act 1990 requires that you take preservation of both the setting and the monuments themselves as one of those exceptionally important circumstances that is known in planning terms as “a material consideration”. This is an additional point to that concerning the failure of the structure plan and local plan to take them into consideration.

In fact, there may well be a case for the Planning Authority to consider making an Article 4 Direction to withdraw permitted development right. Whilst this does not prevent the Authority proceeding to determine the application, an Article 4 Direction would require the Secretary of State’s approval and, if granted, would indicate that the Secretary of State is prepared to consider this application to be of national importance.

Planning Authorities are sometimes criticised if they refuse an application on the basis that it is of such great importance that it should be examined at a public enquiry. This, of course, is quite separate to the right of the Secretary of State to call in the application after it has been determined by the Authority. The national prominence of this matter means that the Authority should ensure that, if the applicants so desire, this application is fully and critically examined at a public enquiry. In fact, this is one of those unusual circumstances that would justify a refusal with that object in mind.


A Planning Committee is likely to encounter many landscape protection categories in its deliberations. These range from ancient monuments to listed buildings to National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The setting of the Thornborough Henges does not have any such protection, but we urge the Committee to remember the so-called Sandford principle that applies to National Parks. In summary, this recognises that, although statute provides for two purposes for National Parks, it also acknowledges that sometimes these can be in conflict. The Environment Act 1995 specifically provides (in Section 62, introducing Section 11A of the National Park and Access to the Countryside Act 1949) that, if there appears to be a conflict between the two purposes, a National Park Authority should attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park.

In conclusion, therefore, we ask that the Committee, recognising the conflict in this application between economic exploitation and the need to conserve the nation’s cultural heritage, attach the greater weight to the preservation of the settings of internationally and nationally important archaeological remains. It is quite clear that the applicants have failed to establish that the requirement for minerals is so great, and alternative sources so lacking, as to justify the destruction of such an irreplaceable archaeological landscape.

Become totally un-henged:
Join the Friends of Thornborough Henges
at no cost
click here