RDC – conserving or destroying?

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Emails have been flying between Rother District Council, the East Sussex County Archaeologist, English Heritage and Winchelsea Heritage over building work in Winchelsea. The property in question is located on part of the site of the Blackfriars Monastery and is next door to a scheduled ancient monument containing the rest of the monastery remains. Winchelsea Heritage and Winchelsea Archaeological Society first contacted Rother about deep excavations for a septic tank and other groundworks. They were concerned that the work should be monitored to ensure any archaeology about the enigmatic religious foundation was recorded.

However, Rother argued that, as the property was not listed, planning permission, including an archaeological planning condition, was not required. The Winchelsea groups pointed to the town’s status as an archaeologically sensitive area and highlighted the presence of a scheduled ancient monument in the neighbouring field. They also took the initiative to inform the county archaeologist.

He promptly visited the site but found that the excavations had been completed. The Winchelsea groups returned to Rother to ask why the county archaeologist had not been informed before work started. This was not possible, said Rother, as there was no planning application. But countered the Winchelsea groups, building permission had been required and applied for.

At this point, the Winchelsea groups noticed that the builders working on the property had driven into the neighbouring field, which is a scheduled ancient monument, and had started to fill the contours which mark the ruins of the monastery with soil and debris. They were also burning rubbish. Such activities on a scheduled monument are a criminal offence.

Enter English Heritage. And so the story hangs. Winchelsea Heritage said: “The whole episode demonstrates that the framework for the management of conservation areas in Rother has big holes in it. We hope that development work anywhere in the Winchelsea conservation area will be monitored more methodically in future. But has Rother cut back its planning resources too far? And do they even care about local archaeology?”

Photo by Richard Comotto