Eminent archaeologists and historians raise concerns over Bury St Edmunds development site

Dr Tom Licence, from UEA.

Dr Tom Licence, from UEA. - Credit: Contributed

Prominent archaeologists and historians have called for a “major excavation” of a development site which sits in a landscape of potentially “international significance”.

A Google Earth image showing the scheduled ancient monument at Fornham All Saints.

A Google Earth image showing the scheduled ancient monument at Fornham All Saints. - Credit: Google Earth

These specialists have signed an open letter which is published in the EADT today concerning land on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, near Fornham All Saints, where building work for about 900 homes could begin in May.

Concerns are over the proximity of the site to the Fornham All Saints cursus – a Neolithic processional way 1.2 miles long and a Scheduled Ancient Monument which has been dubbed as potentially “significant as Stone Henge”.

The open letter says the cursus sits amid a landscape of high-level archaeological activity, “potentially of international significance”.

It raises questions over the archaeological investigations at the development site, which Dr Tom Licence, director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia, said the cursus may actually extend into.

The letter says: “...we write to seek a full independent archaeological evaluation in accordance with the planning process and in advance of any building. As historians and archaeologists working with the public, we have a legitimate expectation for a site of this importance to merit a major excavation involving outreach, community groups and the general public as ordinarily happens elsewhere.”

Countryside Properties has outline planning consent for the homes and full permission for the link road.

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Andrew Carrington, managing director of strategic land at Countryside, said: “Construction works on site are due to commence later in 2015. This will allow for a phased approach to further archaeological site investigations at Bury St Edmunds in line with the planning condition for such works.”

He said the developer is advised by registered members of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and have ensured full consultation with the archaeology team at Suffolk County Council.

“These works are an essential part of our due diligence for the planning consent and proposed forthcoming reserved matters applications. We look forward to involving the local community in the archaeological investigations to promote greater awareness of any findings at this site and the archaeological process adopted by Countryside. It should however be noted that investigations to date have not identified anything of note.”

Previously a county council spokeswoman said the archaeological remains encountered so far were of “local and/or regional significance” but not national significance.

Dr Licence believes the archaeological project brief for the planned works should be subject to public scrutiny, but a Countryside spokeswoman said this is a trade document and the full report following the investigations would be made public.

Rebecca Hopfensperger, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for localities, environment and waste, said the archaeology conservation team would assess the developer’s programme of archaeological work prior to anything beginning on site and recommend to the planning authority whether the programme is fit for purpose.

“All future fieldwork undertaken by the developer will be monitored. We are confident that the archaeological remains on the site will be appropriately investigated and protected,” she added.