To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has now completed his consideration of English Heritage's advice on the effectiveness of part II of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 concerning archaeological areas; and if he will make a statement.
I have considered English Heritage's advice on the operation and effectiveness of areas of archaeological importance (AAIs) in the light of the likely impact of the Department's planning policy guidance note (PPG) on archaeology and planning. We are currently considering the 200 or so responses to the draft guidance note and expect to publish final guidance within the next few months. English Heritage has advised me that no further areas of archaeological importance should be designated at present but that it would be premature to take decisions on the future use of the existing statutory provisions until the impact of the Department's forthcoming planning policy guidance note on archaeology and planning has been assessed.The provisions of part II of the 1979 Act are broadly intended to help prevent important archaeological sites being damaged or destroyed without there first being an opportunity for archaeological investigation and recording. By contrast the draft planning policy guidance note places archaeology more firmly in the planning process with its message to developers and local planning authorities to consider the possible existence of archaeological remains on site before submitting planning applications and the desirability of preserving them. This guidance will apply across the country whereas areas of archaeological importance must be limited to specified areas.In the circumstances I have concluded, in agreement with English Heritage advice, that it would be sensible to allow time for the impact of the planning policy guidance note to be assessed before considering further the role of areas of archaeological importance. I therefore intend to review the position with regard to areas of archaeological importance 12 months after publication of the planning policy guidance note by which time we can begin to form a judgment on the effectiveness of the forthcoming planning policy guidance note.