The final version of PPG 16 was published 30 years ago today.

Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning transformed archaeological practice. Only 24 pages long, and at first glance a rather technical note on the implementation of the town and country planning system, its consequences for professional archaeology were revolutionary.

PPG 16 obliged developers to pay for archaeological work that previously had been paid for from the public purse. And if they were paying, developers were free to choose who they would pay, and so this became the great enabling process of commercial archaeology.

The implementation of PPG 16 allowed archaeology in England to grow and thrive, normalising commercial archaeology and embedding it within the broader construction sector. Rapidly emulated, the same effects followed elsewhere in the UK.

Darvill et al estimated in Archaeology in the PPG16 era that there were 80,000 development-led archaeological investigations in England in the decade after its publication that would not have taken place without it, and by 2007, 93% of all archaeological projects in England were being delivered this way. Practice had been transformed, and those effects became long-lasting. While that 1990 policy document has long been updated and replaced, its key, core principles continue to enable archaeological practice 30 years on.

FAME knows that archaeology in the UK today is almost entirely the product of PPG 16. No other publication has had anything remotely close to its effects on practice.

Without it, we wouldn’t be the archaeological sector that is able to work with local government advisors and developer-clients to deliver archaeological projects at all scales anywhere in the UK.

PPG 16 is, quite simply, the most important archaeological publication there has ever been.

Kenneth Aitchison