|12 February 2006
Thronborough henges saga is approaching its final chapter
The application to increase quarrying operations near the Thornborough Henges Neolithic site in North Yorkshire (England) will be determined at a planning meeting of North Yorkshire County Council on February 21 2006. Following the publication of new archaeological investigations, the quarrying and construction company Tarmac has applied to extend gravel extraction at Ladybridge Farm - close to the 5,500 year-old site. The original planning decision was deferred in September 2005 to allow further surveys to determine whether the area was of national archaeological significance. The resulting independent report, commissioned by Tarmac, concluded that archaeological remains at Ladybridge are not of national significance.
On the other hand, English Heritage and leading experts are urging North Yorkshire County Council to refuse planning permission for further quarrying and they have re-affirmed their opposition to the application by quarry firm Tarmac. In a letter to the council, Neil Redfern, of English Heritage, says: "English Heritage believes that the archaeological evaluations have now adequately characterised the deposits within the Ladybridge Farm site and we have no hesitation in asserting that these deposits are of national importance."
Also opposing Tarmac’s application is the Council for British Archaeology. Its director, Mike Heyworth, says in a letter: "The CBA’s view remains that that the application should be refused because further investigation shows that the proposed quarry extension site includes nationally significant prehistoric remains which would merit preservation in situ, in accordance with national planning policy guidance." Respected archaeologist, Dr Jan Harding, who has spent nearly a decade researching the Thornborough site, is another to oppose the quarrying. In his letter to the council he says: "The additional archaeological investigation at Ladybridge, and its interpretation in the report, has done nothing to alleviate my objections. To the contrary, the work appears to confirm Ladybridge’s cultural significance.”
In a detailed response this week, Tarmac expressed surprise at the continuing opposition to their plans. Tarmac estates manager, Bob Nicholson, said: "News that English Heritage is maintaining its objection to our planning application is deeply disappointing, puzzling and flies in the face of the factual evidence that emerged from a detailed archaeological investigation that was conducted using a methodology agreed with and subsequently monitored by them and North Yorkshire County Council. That investigation, which was carried out by a team of highly qualified professional archaeologists whose work was featured in a daily diary on the Internet, is one of the largest ever carried out for a planning application of this nature and followed the same methodology that English Heritage’s own consultants used for the proposed development of a visitor centre and road improvements close to Stonehenge." Mr Nicholson added: "The finger tip search of Ladybridge involved a sample larger than English Heritage felt necessary for the Stonehenge world heritage site and yielded only thin and scattered remnants of Mesolithic and Neolithic artefacts that would barely fill a bucket."
Staff employed by Tarmac Northern said that the archaeology found during a recent survey was not worth their jobs. Speaking on behalf of the 55 quarry staff and contractors, quarry worker Paul Ingram said: "The proposed site is modern farmland, not a Neolithic village and the archaeologists have found only a small quantity of remnants of pottery and flint, the like of which could be found in many fields in Britain. What makes a bucket of crumbs worth £10m and the loss of 50 jobs?" Quarry manager Alan Coe said: "We are aware that when colleagues at a quarry in Northumberland recently found Neolithic remains, English Heritage permitted their removal for archaeological examination and the quarry continued in operation. "We are concerned that different rules are apparently to be applied in Yorkshire."
The decision as to whether the quarrying will continue will be decided at the meeting on February 21.
Sources: Graham Spicer for 24 Hour Museum (7 February 2006), This is the North East (9 February 2006), Nidderdale Today (10 February 2006)
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