Letters to the Prim Minister with follow up letters as events moved quickly.
31 January 2014
Dear Prime Minister
Premature moves to destroy evidence of the 1066 Battle of Fulford
I wrote to you on 14th January to tell you about the ‘planned’ destruction of the site of the 1066 battlesite at Fulford. I was not asking for any immediate action because I have a legal action pending before the Court.
But last week it became clear that the developer and the local planning officers do not intend to await the outcome of my Court action. They began preparing their access road by felling the trees. These preparations have been temporarily halted while Conservation Area consent is obtained. I am now asking for your immediate intervention to ensure that the site is not destroyed until the evidence I have shown exists here, has been assembled and properly assessed.
My previous letter explained how the planning responsibility was divided between central and local government. The problem is that the local planning authority says that none of the heritage, or environmental issues such as flooding, can be reviewed by them as permission was granted by the Secretary of State in 2007. This has meant that evidence which has emerged in the last decade is being ignored as the planning assessments were made in 2004. So this is a matter for central government and I would ask you to contact the relevant Ministers urgently to prevent the loss of an invaluable piece of heritage.
The reasons for my intense concern are that the law is being subverted and nobody is taking political responsibility. The access road has been recognised by English Heritage as the probable location of the 1066 battle of Fulford. I now have powerful reasons to believe that there is no intention to address the archaeological evidence:
· The local planners have just published the Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) to discharge the archaeological condition. But the public may not comment. The planners argue that the SoS has already decided the ‘facts’. I will attach a summary of the misleading and wrong information in the WSI plus I will send a full copy to the Minister for Local Government as I do not think he would want to be accountable for such nonsense. Key ‘facts’ presented in the WSI are wrong.
· The local planners have ignored the powerful evidence presented which suggests that the archaeology provided by the developers in the area that is now being cleared of trees was demonstrably wrong. Referring to the attached images, I am engaged with the British Museum and York University to explore the exciting material we found on the stone surface of the ford that is from the heart of the battle at the Foule-Ford (muddy ford). The premature work to build a road over the ford is quite literally a ‘cover-up’ that will render the missing, archaeological evidence inaccessible.
· English Heritage invited me to apply for designation of the site after senior officers attended a lecture at the Royal Armouries where I set out the evidence that the victors were recycling the metal debris after the battle. Their experts then recommended designation but some unidentified officers decided the site should not be designated, contrary to their published designation criteria, citing the planning situation as the reason.
o Internal communications of English Heritage recognise that once the road has been built, it will remove the need to designate the site. Visitors will not be able to recognise the battle site when the landscape of the last shieldwall battle on British soil is buried beneath 5m of hard-core because the road will fill the ditch, carved when the last ice-sheet withdrew past Fulford, and where the armies faced each other in September 1066.
o The premature actions to build the road before the various legal actions are concluded will subvert the right of the Court to assess the matter. In this context, the delays that English Heritage has brought to my legal action appear very unhelpful and I intend to alert the Court to this.
· I have already contacted the Treasury Solicitor with an FOI request to discover why English Heritage only agreed to my request to review their decision after I had launched my case and to discover why the case has been so protracted by them.
· When I write to Secretary of State for Communities I will be renewing my urgent request to discover why special funding has been granted to build this new road and why my timely response to their consultation went both unacknowledged and ignored. Tax payers might question why public funds are required to rescue the planned access road which has a junction that is well known to flood. This is extremely bad planning which those involved hope to cover-up by their premature action.
It is wrong that nobody is taking responsibility for the failures to address the overwhelming evidence for the battlesite. Please ask the relevant Ministers to challenge those responsible with these facts and ask them to explain their actions. The matter is now extremely urgent.
There is adequate room for our heritage and housing to coexist at Fulford. The issue is about granting permission for an access road that has its junction at a place which regularly floods based on misleading and wrong information which the attached images illustrate.
I apologise that I will not be able to extend the courtesy of time by awaiting your reply because I must make all of my information available to the media at the end of next week.
14 January 2014
Dear Prime Minister
I am writing to ensure that you are aware of the planned destruction of the site of the 1066 battle of Fulford. I am not asking for any action at this moment since the matter is still being considered by the Courts. But I have been prompted to write to you now because, in spite of the pending legal actions, shortly before the Christmas break the developers attempted to start work. Therefore, the need to raise this as a political issue might happen sooner than I had expected because the destruction of an irreplaceable heritage asset, and the proper operation of planning system where neither national nor local government are taking responsibility for the mistakes and the misleading information underpinning the decision, requires national, political leadership.
Five years of archaeology followed by a decade of battling with the planning authority to get them to address the evidence for the battlesite has given me good grounds to doubt the public authorities who ought to be responsible for protecting our heritage. Let me provide examples.
Following the disclosure by a whistle-blower in November 2012, I used the Freedom of Information provisions to discover that the planning officers for the City of York, English Heritage, and the developers met in February and March 2005 and agreed a false ‘story’ to undermine the body of evidence for locating the battlesite. This followed the extensive evidence presented during 2004 to locate the battle after a Lottery funded project to find this forgotten battle of 1066. The evidence for the serious accusations I make in this letter have been published as a part of my Court papers and I attach a document summarising the evidence.
Ironically, I also discovered that senior officials of English Heritage suggested that I should be invited to request that the site was designated after attending a lecture I gave at the Royal Armouries where I presented the unique, physical evidence of the extensive clear-up and metal recycling that took place after the battle that we had found. The application to designate the battlesite has sadly led to my own legal action which I very reluctantly launched last February against English Heritage, when I discovered that their expert advisory body had recommended designation of the battle of Fulford, despite advice from EH officers not to do so because of the planning situation. The expert panel was indeed overruled by other officials and in November 2012 I learned that the site was going to be ‘recognised’ but not designated.
Nevertheless, and in spite of many requests, English Heritage has failed so far to provide me with the details of people or the process that took the decision to ignore the published evidence or the recommendation of their own advisory panel. This was not a matter of fine or balanced judgements but the acceptance of claims by the developers and the local authority that can so easily be dismissed by visiting the site. This is not the way open government is supposed to work. It is wrong that a secret group which I believe is called the Strategic Designation Group of English Heritage should be anonymous and apparently unaccountable for their decisions.
It should also not be credible that civil servants who are charged with protecting our heritage can be complicit in the careless destruction of a heritage asset but I would ask you to inspect the evidence I have presented which suggests that this is what happened. A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of the archaeological work planned for this site, apparently already agreed by English Heritage and the local authority, which devotes much space to justifying why they are going to ignore the location of the battlesite. The document even fails to report that English Heritage, and to the best of my knowledge all informed observers, recognise that the deep, glacial ditch that runs across the proposed development to drain this flood plain is the probable site of the first battle of 1066.
Ignoring the fact that archaeological investigations should, by law, have preceded any decision about the site, the recently agreed archaeological work even fails to investigate the location of the many metal recycling sites identified along the battlesite. These recycling sites might owe their survival to the defeat of the Norse invaders at Stamford Bridge just five days after the battle at Fulford because the tidal flooding would have quickly covered them. I have presented these finding at many international conferences, as well as at the British Museum at an event organised by the Portable Antiquities Service, over the last decade and it is likely that the Fulford finds are unique since the valuable metalwork would normally have been recycled and removed, rather than abandoned, as seems to have occurred at Fulford.
This neglect by the authorities is doubly incomprehensible since last summer I uncovered geophysical data held by English Heritage and the planning authority since 2003 that was not shown to me, which confirms the locations of some post-battle, metal recycling hearths that I had published and debated at conferences. Luckily, we had recovered this material before the area was included within the proposed development. I would invite you to address if it is right that the Lottery-funded group investigating the battlefield was subsequently denied access to the land by the developers once these metal recycling sites were revealed after international scholars had studied the material. It is especially wrong as the request for access preceded any consideration of the planning applications.
But this is not the only example of evidence being suppressed. Last August we opened a trail trench at the ford which lies at the heart of the battle of ful-ford (muddy-ford). We recovered an exceptional amount of material and a project is now being planned to uncover more of the surface of the ford. Previously, I had accepted in good faith the official archaeology provided by the developers. But their version cannot be reconciled with what we have discovered just a few metres away on the other bank because the exceptionally dry summer of 2013 made it possible to see that the layers we were investigating extended to the other bank. However, the official work fails to report the location of the stone-lined ford base or any iron material to match the quite exceptional quantity of iron fragments we discovered among the stone surface of the ford. Alarmingly, the agreed work scheme discussed earlier specifically seeks to exclude the requirement for archaeological work in this area claiming that a ‘haul route’ needs to be installed to enable other work. Somebody must exert their authority to stop this cover-up.
The failure to carry out relevant archaeological work that can stand the test of public scrutiny must be investigated before reconsidering if building work should be allowed to take place here. The matter is doubly urgent because, as I noted earlier, attempts were recently made to clear the land on the adjacent bank. Not only have I alerted the planning authority that the developers’ archaeological report of this area is probably wrong but English Heritage has stated that, while recognising this is the probable site, once a road has buried the place where the two shieldwalls faced each other, just a few weeks before the battle of Hastings, they will not be able to designate the site.
So it will certainly be very convenient to have the site quickly destroyed as this will save English Heritage and the local planners further embarrassing discoveries–Yet both the City of York, the developers and the inspector at the public inquiry in 2006 have stated that they would have to reconsider the plan if the site was formally designated.
It is incomprehensible that the various responsible authorities should countenance the destruction of such an accessible piece of heritage. The site, on the outskirts of York, has survived almost unchanged because it is still subject to regular flooding. To make matters worse, this access road was recently granted public funds to help prevent a proposed access road from flooding! It is so wrong that a new development should be approved when we already know that the access road will flood. But this is what the various public bodies responsible have approved.
I am simultaneously writing to the SoS for Communities to invite him to investigate what is going on and possibly launch a public inquiry into how false information can be promulgated and then pass unchallenged through the planning process. I will also be asking why my timely complaint about the grant of public funds to prevent the new junction from flooding went unacknowledged and important issues went unaddressed. I also intend to ask the Heritage Select Committee if they will consider requiring that all those advising public bodies on archaeology should be charted and professionally accountable for the advice they provide since there is no sanction if archaeological advisors fail to tell the truth.
I am also writing to the leaders of all of the parties represented at Westminster to ensure that all our politicians are informed about the scandalous performance of various public bodies with respect to the battle of Fulford. I will be inviting them all to ensure that the fate of this site, which enjoys full public access, is easily accessible from a nearby park & ride, and where I regularly conduct tours and organise battle re-enactments for local primary schools, is only decided once the facts have been discovered and considered. I hope our politicians will recognise the need to review the performance of the many public bodies who have failed at Fulford.
My present campaign is aimed at ensuring the area is properly investigated and if the original archaeology proves to have been defective, another access route is selected that will not destroy the battlesite. It would be easy for heritage and housing to coexist at Fulford. It must be unacceptable to sacrifice such a heritage asset by allowing the planning process to suppress evidence.
Finally, I have raise my complaints about the introduction of false facts with the appropriate people but I am always reassured that the process followed has been correct. My complaint is about false and misleading facts and not, primarily, about the process. I very much hope that you will now use your authority to ensure that, whatever the final fate of the battlesite, it is based on the facts.
I also wrote to all of the political parties represented at Westminster.
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