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25 February 2015
Dear Cabinet Secretary
The Site of the 1066 battle of Fulford
I would appreciate your assistance in obtaining answers to the questions I have been addressing to some ministers and a secretary of state. I have been pursuing this matter for over a year and am mindful that the active months of this Parliament are drawing to a close.
The issue I raise is extremely urgent and important. Rather than provide you with the extensive correspondence, including a number of FOI/EIRs that have gone unanswered, I will outline the issues that I am pursuing with the various ministers - I am not for the moment asking you to inquire into these extended failures. Instead I would ask you to obtain a coordinated response since each part of government is avoiding responsibility for indecisions that will see irreplaceable heritage destroyed in the coming months.
Neither will I rehearse here full details of how a whistle blower provided the notes of two meetings early in 2005 where a false story was agreed between the developers, the City of York Council (the LPA) and English Heritage. The latter had previously blocked any building along Germany Beck which they believed to be the location of the 1066, battle of Fulford. They had supported and assisted with the generous Lottery-funded research, led by York Archaeological Trust, which allowed a confident identification of the battlesite during 2004. But in 2005 a planning application was brought forward and, following a public inquiry in 2006, the SoS approved the application in May 2007 which lay dormant until last year when, although technically time-expired, the reserved matters were approved by CYC.
Secretary of State for Communities
Under legislation, the SoS must be kept informed of progress of any planning matter that they have approved. I have been seeking to discover if the law have been obeyed using FOI. Instead I am told that the SoS has delegated all control to the LPA which does not absolve either party of obeying the law. First, I seek evidence that the law has been obeyed. Second, I would like the SoS to explain why he feels it appropriate to ignore the evidence of wrong-going I provided when the law makes him responsible for the application granted by his office. I hope he will use his power to call in the various conditions that are still outstanding such as false claims that have allowed housing to be approved in flood zone 3 and the scheme for archaeology which ignores key consent conditions.
Minister for Transport
I have tried to engage with the Minster for Transport to obtain an explanation why the £1.9m ‘Pinch Point’ funding granted to benefit this project. I discovered that these funds, designed to address existing traffic bottlenecks, were going to be used to ‘unblock’ the Germany Beck project according to a letter from a council officer to the developer. The single junction for the 600+ houses joins the A19 at a place that regularly floods. However, I have told the DoT that part of a letter disclosed showed that there was an arrangement whereby 106 planning money would be used as the matched funding which was a qualifying condition for the PP fund. The full details of the arrangement have not been disclosed, claiming commercial confidentiality, but there is enough to suggest that the funds were not being employed to relieve pinch points since a completely new junction is planned. Creative accounting may sometimes be appropriate but there must be full debate and disclosure. I ask the Minister to see if the PP fund is being misused. Furthermore, when the application was submitted I objected within the consultation period, telling the DoT that we had extracted iron which can be dated to the time of the 1066 battle at a point where the recent plans show a flood wall or embankment. However, the application claimed there was ‘0%’ risk of any delay because of archaeology. The land in question is owned by Fulford Parish Council and they have given me permission to resume the exciting excavation in July. I would like the Minister to call back the application where, incidentally, the work has not yet started but is imminent.
Minister responsible for heritage
I have kept the advisors to the Minister informed of the way false and misleading information has been employed to justify the destruction of the battlesite and how confirmatory evidence was emerging but being ignored. I was particularly keen to keep him informed of the questionable role of English Heritage who invited me to apply to have the site designated after senior officials attended a lecture I gave at the Royal Armouries. The EH expert panel recommended designation of the Fulford battlesite; however they had already been advised that the site would not be designated because of the panning situation. A few weeks ago the Appeal Court dismissed my complaint, although the judgement concluded that I might be correct about the evidence, the law gives EH the right to dispose of heritage as they judge appropriate. I am currently pursuing a case with the Information Commissioner as EH have failed to disclose why they told both their expert panel in February 2012 and their review committee in March 2013 that they were not going to designate the site. The basis of my complaint is that internal emails identify the decisive body which EH deny has provided any written records. I have asked the Minister to intervene in this matter to obtain an explanation for EH’s actions. I will very shortly be writing direct to the Select Committee to ask them to call on the Minister to explain why he has been inactive while the statutory body for which he has oversight has failed to protect an irreplaceable piece of publicly accessible heritage.
I have also written to the Prime Minister a number of times drawing his attention to the failures of the system and pointing out that planning is a political decision for which the SoS is responsible. When there are failures of government then I ultimately look to its head for some resolution. So I would be grateful if you would draw this matter to his attention, noting it requires immediate action.
I detect the components of ‘wilful blindness’ in the government response as each part hopes somebody else will take the appropriate action to address a matter which has gone so wrong, imagining that government could not possibly make such a big mistake. There is no doubt that the site of the battle has been scientifically identified, merely some issues about the evidential security which can never be resolved for a battle so long ago. The unique physical evidence shows that the victors gathered and recycled the ironwork immediately after the battle. At Fulford, this work was interrupted by the arrival of King Harold II and the destruction of the Norse invaders at nearby Stamford Bridge just 5 days after Fulford. The tidal flooding would account for the way the recycling debris survived and this makes Fulford historically and archaeologically unique.
If the ministers are not collectively capable of addressing the failures that I have told them about, I would hope that they will leave it to their political successors to decide if our country should be building an access road along an ice-carved flood-drain that was,until recent interventions,the habitat of bats and water voles. This road will fill the 500m ditch across which the English faced the Vikings in the last shieldwall battle fought on our soil. Can you ask the ministers to leave instructions that the fate of the battle of Fulford is not an administrative matter that can be left to officials when they relinquished their offices prior to the General Election. The economic, heritage and reputational consequences if this road construction goes ahead are so serious that it is politicians rather than civil servants who must be accountable.
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The author of the content is Charles Jones - firstname.lastname@example.org Last updated April 2015
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