Fresh bid to halt Cattle Market scheme

By Liz HearnshawLEADING archaeologists are hoping the Deputy Prime Minister will intervene and delay plans for an £85million shopping development.Tim Schadla-Hall, secretary of the Parliamentary Archaeology Group, has written to John Prescott regarding potential finds beneath the Cattle Market site in Bury St Edmunds.

By Liz Hearnshaw

LEADING archaeologists are hoping the Deputy Prime Minister will intervene and delay plans for an £85million shopping development.

Tim Schadla-Hall, secretary of the Parliamentary Archaeology Group, has written to John Prescott regarding potential finds beneath the Cattle Market site in Bury St Edmunds.

Duncan McAndrew, an expert in medieval archaeology, is now compiling a dossier of evidence to support his letter.

He is hoping the information could see Mr Prescott call in St Edmundsbury Borough Council's decision to grant planning permission for the Cattle Market redevelopment, significantly delaying the project.

“This has been an absolute disaster in terms of the archaeology of the town,” said Mr McAndrew. “If we were looking at comparable sites in York, Ipswich or Southampton which have been dug in the last 30 years, we would now have a major excavation on our hands.

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“I feel the very basics have been ignored as there was no report put in front of the planning committee. There should have been a proper archaeological survey done before this stage and we are very worried about why this has not happened.

“Bury is the fifth most important medieval town in Britain and the Cattle Market site has been sealed since 1828, which is what makes it so exciting. It has not been interfered with and would give us the chance to find good archaeology.”

Mr McAndrew said Britain's first recorded windmill had been found 200 metres from the site, while England's first clock was discovered 400 metres away.

He added there was evidence the site could also house an old processional route to St Edmunds Abbey.

“In other parts of the country you dig and find coal or gas, but in East Anglia you find the past,” said Mr McAndrew.

“If we had a report, we could start putting questions out there and ask what archaeological strategy we would take.

“When York was excavated, they got the Yorvic Viking Centre out of it. It is quite possible you would find something on a similar kind of level here.

“This concern is not going to go away and several other archaeologists will also be writing to Mr Prescott. There will be a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure to mitigate the worst.”

But Bob Carr, conservation team archaeologist at Suffolk County Council, said developers Centros Miller had provided a desktop study of the site that used information to speculate on what may be underneath the surface.

“That report confirmed what we already knew, in that the Cattle Market is outside the medieval walled town and is not an area which is going to have medieval housing on it. It is also away from the Saxon settlement down by the river,” he added.

“The desktop suggested it had only moderate to low archaeological potential and we then took that to the borough council. I felt I had enough information to know I would not object in principle to the development.

“A planning condition imposed is that a programme of archaeological work will take place on site and the results recorded and recovered. The borough is effectively committed to carry out all the necessary work.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed it had the power to call in planning decisions - even after they have been given the go ahead by regional offices such as GO-East, which the Cattle Market received last week.

But the spokesman admitted that was unusual after a local authority had made a decision to grant planning permission.

Once redeveloped, the Cattle Market site will boast a public venue, 35 new shops, a Debenhams department store and 56 residential apartments.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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