Ancient Monument boundary may be expanded in face of pylons plan

The boundaries of a Scheduled Ancient Monument protecting the remnants of a 5,000-year-old settlement in Chelmsford could be reviewed in the face of a planned route for new high-voltage power lines between Norwich and Tilbury.

National Grid is seeking to run the new power line to the west of Chelmsford through a pinch point some 250m wide between Little Waltham and Great Waltham.

Of particular concern to campaigners is the damage they say will be caused to the Scheduled Monument known as Ash Tree Corner, a Neolithic settlement that could be from as early as 3,170BC – the same age as Stonehenge.

However, they add that current schematics – which show the monument as a triangle – do not reflect the actual size as only part of the settlement was excavated when it was discovered during the construction of the Waltham bypass in the early 1970s.

The Council for British Archaeology, who were involved in organising the archaeological excavation of the Ash Tree site in the early 1970s and who subsequently published the definitive report of the excavation in Little Waltham, have said they are considering whether they think the Scheduled Ancient Monument boundaries of the Ash Tree site should be reviewed.

They add that “archaeological evaluation of any proposed pylon locations will be necessary” as part of the overall scheme.

In an email to campaigners in the Walthams the Council for British Archaeology said: “It would certainly be worth considering whether new construction proposed could avoid the site.

“At the least, some archaeological evaluation of any proposed pylon locations will be necessary.

“Our casework team will also discuss with Historic England what their strategy is regarding this – it may be time for the SAM boundaries to be reviewed, if possible.”

An archaeological dig – confined to the footprint of the road – revealed early Neolithic, early and late Iron Age, Roman and early and late Medieval settlements. Carbon dating of pottery from the site showed settlement there was present over 5000 years ago, making it one of the earliest such sites in England.

Although the archaeological excavations were limited to the extent of the bypass it was clear that the Ash Tree site was much more extensive than this. Archaeologists involved in the dig said that the settlements were likely to have extended some 500m from the point where the bypass crossed the River Chelmer.

Campaigners say this means that not only will the current proposed electricity line pass directly over the protected site, but one of the proposed 50m pylons will be constructed actually on top of the site.

John Burrow said: “The CBA are concerned about this National Grid proposal, and says that consideration should be given to avoiding the site.

“They state an archaeological evaluation of any proposed pylon locations will be necessary. They are entering into discussions with Historic England about the matter and are considering whether the Scheduled Ancient Monument boundaries of the Ash Tree site should be reviewed.”

National Grid says it is currently holding a statutory consultation on the draft proposals and have extended the deadline until July 26 to give people even more time to send comments after the general election.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter