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New Battle Of Northampton Puts Leader Mackintosh under Pressure

September 18th, 2012 | by Andy Brockman
New Battle Of Northampton Puts Leader Mackintosh under Pressure
Archaeology News
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Bosworth Fight (photo John Kliene)

In 1460 the first Battle of Northampton saw the forces of the Duke of York, father of King Richard III, assault the fortified encampment of the Lancastrian Army of Henry VI and amid gunfire and the clash of thousands of soldiers win the day. 

In 2012 new battle lines are being drawn over the nationally important Registered Battlefield of Northampton with local people and battlefield experts claiming that Northampton Borough Council and its Leader Cllr David Mackintosh,  is basing a decision to support in principle the development of the site on advice from council officers which is “old fashioned” misleading and completely fails to mention the fact that, under the new National Planning Policy Framework, such development should be “wholly exceptional.”

The Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh, is under increasing pressure from local people and national bodies such as the Battlefields Trust, to prevent irreparable damage to the nationally important site of the 1460 Battle of Northampton and find an alternative site for proposed Football and Rugby pitches including training pitches for the highly successful Northampton Saints Rugby Football Club and a memorial pitch to young Northampton born professional footballer Richard Butcher who sadly died aged 29 in 2011.

Critics of the plan argue that, while they particularly sympathise with and wish to support, the Butcher family in its wish to create a memorial for Richard Butcher, the proposed development of the Battlefield site is wrong for the site and wrong for Northampton.   This is because, as well as irreparably changing the rural nature of the nationally important battlefield site, the proposed development, which would include changing rooms and car parking as well as substantial landscaping to level the site, will almost certainly lead to the closure of the successful All Work Equestrian riding school.  Among other activities the riding school undertakes a programme of Riding for the Disabled.

Cllr Mackintosh is coming under particular pressure because the Cabinet of the Conservative controlled Council has already approved in principle the development of the land at Eagle Drive on the southern edge of Northampton in spite accusations that the decision by Councillors was based on incomplete, seriously faulty and potentially misleading advice from Borough Planning Officers.

The officer’s report to Cabinet, which was released by campaigners under the Freedom of Information Act and which has been seen by Heritage Daily, reveals that the Councillors taking the decision in July were not made aware of the wording of section 132. of the new National Planning Policy Framework which states that …

”Substantial harm to or loss of designated heritage assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.”

In addition Councillors were not informed that the NPPF also lays down specific and very strict criteria, all of which should be met, before development on such sites can be allowed to go ahead by the planning authority.  This includes the requirement to demonstrate a “substantial public benefit” which outweighs the harm done to the site and the requirement to explore conservation and alternative economic uses for the site before development is allowed as a last resort.

Independent commentators consider it is most unlikely that the development of sports pitches would qualify as a “substantial public benefit” under the terms of the NPPF over and above what already exists on the site.  That is a viable riding school operating on a greenfield site and with the whole site representing an environmentally sensitive, irreplaceable and nationally important part of our heritage, which possibly also includes historically important farm buildings in something close to their original context.

The economic case for development is also regarded by opponents as non-existent because it is argued, the existing site is clearly capable of sensitive and sustainable development as a local and national tourist destination; particularly given the current interest in the Wars of the Roses thanks to the Richard III excavation in nearby Leicester and the Battle of Bosworth visitor centre, which is also in easy reach of the Northampton site.

In 2010 Tourism was worth £147.38 million to Hinckley and Bosworth District Council and the Battle of Bosworth visitor centre received over 42,000 visitors, who might easily be attracted to visit the Battlefield of Northampton and to whom might be added the 90,000 who visited Northampton’s historic Delapre Abbey, which is within easy walking distance of the battlefield site.  Indeed, local people fear that a development on the battlefield site against the spirit and letter of the National Battlefields Register and NPPF may damage the chances of a major multi-million pound Heritage Lottery Fund bid to develop Delapre Abbey itself.  A development which ironically is both supported by Northampton Borough Council itself and which would include displays describing and interpreting the 1460 Battle of Northampton.

Even more damaging to the credibility of the advice Councillors received than the failure to explain the implications to the battlefield development plan is the level of understanding of the potential archaeology of the site displayed by Council Officers, one of whom observed in the advice to cabinet members…

 “…the construction of the sports pitches in themselves will not disturb any underground archaeology [on the battlefield] – but some levelling of the site might be needed – so additional materials might need to be brought in.”

Commenting on this statement leading Battlefield Archaeologist Tim Sutherland responded…

“the concept that archaeology is simply the deposits deeply buried beneath the ground is very old fashioned. Most battle related artefacts are to be found in the top soil and altering the landscape of the battlefield in any way, including the depositing of additional material, will damage it irreparably.”

Archaeological evidence at Northampton could be unique as the battle is both a very rare example of an attack on entrenched positions by a medieval army and one of the earliest potential uses of firearms and cannon in a UK land battle.

Given the historical significance of the site, among the many who will also be watching developments at Northampton closely is the Council’s statutory advisor English Heritage, which is charged with compiling and ensuring the proper use of the Battlefields Register.  The Chief Executive of English Heritage, Dr Simon Thurley highlighted the importance of appropriate and full advice regarding the battlefield in response to a letter from local campaigners expressing fears for the site.

“It is worth remembering that the Borough Council will be both responsible and accountable for any decisions relating to the land at Eagle Drive. English Heritage does not have any statutory powers to step in and ‘prevent’ development. It is therefore important to ensure that the Council continues to have the benefit of all relevant information and advice that may be available from local experts, as well as the statutory advice from English Heritage.”

Leading the defence of the battlefield and riding school is the charity, the Battlefields Trust.  In a press release issued today, 17 September, the Chair of the Battlefields Trust, Frank Baldwin commented…

“the quality of advice the Council is relying on to make decisions about nationally important heritage appears staggeringly poor and suggests it is either incompetent or only wants to hear advice that supports its plans. The sooner councillors get a grip on this the sooner common sense will prevail”

It is also observed that Cllr Mackintosh and his colleagues at Northampton Borough Council appear completely unaware of precedents set in previous attempts to develop Registered Battlefield sites.  The last time a Registered Battlefield was threatened by this kind of local development was at Tewksbury in Gloucestershire where part of the site was subject to a planning application for housing.  The resulting legal dispute and planning enquiry lasted five years and resulted in both the planning application being rejected and the status of the Battlefields Register as the key factor in planning applications for such sites being affirmed.

WoR Soldiers (Photo John Kliene)

Thus, commentators warn, if Northampton Borough Council insists in trying to drive through the Northampton Battlefield development plan citing the deeply flawed and misleading advice of its officers and against local and national opposition, the Council is almost certainly heading for a protracted and expensive planning process.  Not only that, it will be a planning process which will inflict collateral damage on the Council Tax payers of Northampton and the Butcher family and which the Council will, in all probability, lose.

A final potential complication is offered by the involvement of Supermarket giant ASDA in the Northampton proposals.  The Northampton Saints need new community pitches because they have reached a deal with ASDA to develop existing the club’s existing facilities; a development which is regarded by the Saints management as vital to the financial well-being of the highly successful and popular club.  However, it is thought unlikely that ASDA will wish to be associated with any development at Eagle Drive which might damage the image of the ASDA brand by associating it with an environmentally destructive development which also risks putting out of business a well-regarded local riding school which works with children and people with disabilities.

Local representative of the Battlefield Trust, military historian Mike Ingram put the dispute into perspective when he stated…

“No one from Northampton or the Battlefields Trust could possibly object to a project which helps the Saints rugby club or fail to support the Butcher family in their commendable desire to see a memorial built to Richard Butcher. But the Council doesn’t seem to have properly explored other sites. All this requires is a bit more work by the Council and everyone’s objectives can be achieved.”

It remains to be seen whether Cllr Mackintosh and his colleagues are in listening mode and are prepared to see a development everyone wants, community pitches for the Northampton Saints and the Butcher family memorial, placed in a location everyone can support and not on a sensitive and irreplaceable site which, campaigners argue, in all moral and historical terms belongs to the nation.

Battlefields Trust Press Release

Northampton Borough Council Advice on battlefield development flawed

16 September 2012
NBC ADVICE ON EAGLE DRIVE DEVELOPMENT FLAWED

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Documents released by Northampton Borough Council show that the advice it has received about the controversial sports pitch development on the battlefield site at Eagle Drive, Delapre is flawed.

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A Battlefields Trust Environmental Information Regulations request about Council decision making on the project has revealed no mention of new government planning rules which say that development on registered battlefields should be “wholly exceptional” in the redacted correspondence released.

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Where evidence of advice is available it is wrong. One Council official suggested in an email that:
“the construction of the sports pitches in themselves will not disturb any underground archaeology [on the battlefield] – but some levelling of the site might be needed – so additional materials might need to be brought in”.
Renowned Wars of the Roses battlefield archaeologist Dr Tim Sutherland, is clear this is incorrect:
“the concept that archaeology is simply the deposits deeply buried beneath the ground is very old fashioned. Most battle related artefacts are to be found in the top soil and altering the landscape of the battlefield in any way, including the depositing of additional material, will damage it irreparably.”
Summing-up the situation Battlefields Trust Chairman, Frank Baldwin argued:
“the quality of advice the Council is relying on to make decisions about nationally important heritage appears staggeringly poor and suggests it is either incompetent or only wants to hear advice that supports its plans. The sooner councillors get a grip on this the sooner common sense will prevail”.
After first seeking Saints Rugby Club interest, in July 2012 Northampton Borough Council took an ‘in principle’ decision to allow construction of sports pitches on the registered battlefield for the club and to provide a memorial to Northampton born professional footballer Richard Butcher who tragically died in 2011. According to local Battlefield Trust representative, Mike Ingram, those fighting to preserve the battlefield are fully behind the need for new sports pitches, but don’tthink the Council has done enough to look at alternative sites:
“No one from Northampton or the Battlefields Trust could possibly object to a project which helps the Saints rugby club or fail to support the Butcher family in their commendable desire to see a memorial built to Richard Butcher. But the Council doesn’t seem to have properly explored other sites. All this requires is a bit more work by the Council and everyone’s objectives can be achieved.”
Interest in the Wars of the Roses has increased in recent years with the rediscovery of the Bosworth battlefield in Leicestershire in 2009, ongoing archaeological work at the Towton battlefield and this year’s efforts to rediscover the final resting place of Richard III.

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The battle at Northampton is significant politically, militarily and archaeologically. After it, the Duke of York pressed his dynastic claim to the throne for the first time, ushering a new and bloodier phase of the civil war. The battle featured a unique assault on a fortified camp and the probable use of artillery there makes it an important element in the story of the development of firepower; evidence of early use of artillery would be a valuable a comparator to the recent finds at Bosworth.
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For further information contact:

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Peter Burley, Battlefields Trust National Co-ordinator
Email: national.coordinator@battlefieldstrust.com
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Mike Ingram, Battlefields Trust Northampton Battlefield Representative
Email: mikeingram2000@yahoo.co.uk
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Simon Marsh, Battlefields Trust Mercia Region Chairman
Email: mercia@battlefieldstrust.com

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More Information:

http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/news.asp?NewsArticleID=66&Refresh=17%2F09%2F2012+00%3A15%3A34#
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Article Written by Andy Brockman

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases

 

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