to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

April - June 2018

April 2018

hammerhead crane
When the Council Planning Committee passed the Medina Yard planning application, they effectively guaranteed a future for the crane. It had little chance of long term survival without the full refurbishment included in the development.
   The committee passed the application but on condition the industrial section outlined in phase 4 of the proposal is developed parallel with phase 1. A full planning application for phase 4 will have to be submitted and passed before the development can begin. The complete refurbishment of the crane brings to a conclusion a campaign its supporters have fought over many years, during which time they had to face considerable resistance.
  When the idea of preserving the crane was first suggested in 2002, it was met with public criticism from the council's own Conservation Manager, who was adamant it should come down once it was no longer operating. At that time, the preservation of industrial structures was something of an alien concept on the Island.
  When it was Grade II listed, the site owners saw it as inhibiting any future development and attempted to have it de-listed and pulled down. They claimed it was secondhand and had originally been installed at Portsmouth docks. Fortunately there was sufficient research material to demonstrate it was built for J.S.White.
  After the Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust successfully applied to have the crane upgraded to Grade II*, it not only had a higher level of protection but also signalled greater involvement from Historic England.
  When Historic England declared the crane to be 'at risk', the site owners claimed they didn't own the crane and were not therefore liable for repairs. This prompted the Urgent Works Notice saga that ran for months in the media, with the council refusing to provide the finance to process a UWN, ostensibly on the grounds they might not be able to recover it through the courts. The whole issue ended up as something of a fudge, with the UWN eventually being issued in name only. Historic England paid for the work and its doubtful if anybody is going recover any money through the courts.
  While the long term preservation of the crane may be secured, the outstanding issue is the degree to which it will remain operational. The developer intends to manage the site once developed and has made it clear they do not intend to operate the crane, and it's unlikely any planning condition can force them to. Nevertheless, Historic England are seeking to prevent them from making alterations to the crane that would permanently prevent some form of limited operation by a future site owner. The developer has already proposed preserving a modest operation facility and there is talk of a feasibility study to see if any further degree of operation can be maintained.

May 2018
Ever since local authorities were forced to make cuts to services, there have been nationwide concerns that reductions in council archaeology services are weakening the system whereby heritage is considered within planning applications. The Island has not been spared this problem. The most recent cut to the Island's archaeology service will hopefully not have too much effect on the ultimate level of archaeological control, but it will almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the transparency of heritage matters within the planning process.
   Local authorities have an obligation to maintain a system that ensures planned developments do not destroy archaeological evidence before it has been assessed, recorded and, if necessary, properly excavated. The planning system puts the onus the developer to consider the archaeological implications of a site and publish it in a Heritage Statement within the planning application. It is the responsibility of the Planning Department to ensure this process is followed.
  Developers or their contracted archaeologists can access the Historic Environmental Record and other sources to compile the Heritage Statement for inclusion in the planning application. It is useful for a council archaeologist to be aware of relevant enquiries at the pre-planning stage so they can steer the developer into the archaeological requirements on a particularly important site. There are occasional situations where the council archaeologist may call for exploratory excavations prior to raising the planning application.
  Unfortunately there is no formal procedure whereby planning officers need notify the County Archaeology Service of relevant sites at the pre-planning stage. Until now, this situation has been largely overcome by establishing a county archaeologist in permanent liaison with planning officers to informally keep abreast of impending planning enquiries. The recent reduction in the county archaeology staff means this liaison will no longer exist. The only heritage advice developers are now likely to receive at the pre-planning stage will be from planning officers, who inevitably lack the necessary expertise. As a consequence, archaeologically sensitive planning applications could more frequently arise without the relevant Heritage Statements.
  One most recent example is the published planning application for a small housing development on land near Arreton post office (P/00362/18). It is difficult to imagine a more archaeologically sensitive site. It is an area rich in recorded prehistoric occupation. Yet the planning application has no Heritage Statement and there is no suggestion of the site's archaeological importance. Either the planning officer was unaware of Arreton Valley's prehistory, or couldn't be bothered.
  It should be stressed this does not mean that such planning applications will not be picked up by the Archaeology Service once they have been published. The developer will ultimately have to comply with whatever work the service sees fit, albeit by running the process in reverse. However, the first the public will be aware of it will probably be when it appears as a condition in the planning decision. Unfortunately this practice bypasses the transparency required of the planning process. The system is designed to ensure the public are made aware of the full range of environmental implication of a development at the time of the application, to inform their comments. It looks as if this shortcoming will continue indefinitely.

June 2018
Dodnor archaeology
It has been many years since the Island has seen a major community archaeology project. The archaeology now underway at Dodnor cement kilns is almost entirely reliant on volunteers and has received considerable public support.
   The site, known locally as 'Mummies Caves', was cleared of its overgrowth earlier in the year. We reported on the initial interpretation of the cleared site in February. It emerged as a significant range of structures, of which there is much to discover.
  Local archaeologist Ruth Waller is undertaking control of the operation and the organisers have opened the site up to community involvement. There have already been over 50 volunteers carrying out the archaeology at various times. Without them, the considerable progress made to date would not have been possible. A group has also been established to research the social history surrounding the company and its employees.
  Until the mid 20th century, virtually all UK archaeology was carried out by amateur enthusiasts and the occasional academic, often with the involvement of the wider community. From the 1970s, Government began to pass Acts to incorporate archaeology into the planning system and this gave rise to the professional archaeologist, and ultimately all aspects of the activity came under their control. Some archaeologists are enthusiastic about community involvement but the opportunity to develop such programmes has reduced in recent times, not least through the cutbacks to council facilities.
  The work on this intriguing site has already provided answers to some of the questions posed at the outset. Other exposed features have generated more questions and there are sections that have yet to be excavated. It is anticipated the archaeology will continue until August. Anybody wishing to volunteer or find out more about this important project should email Ruth Waller