An archaeologist has branded council chiefs “irresponsible” over their handling of medieval remains uncovered during the regeneration of Lynn’s Saturday Market Place.
Professor Warwick Rodwell, a consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey, criticised the authority after viewing the uncovered remains of the 14th century charnel chapel at the weekend.
But West Norfolk Council has insisted its staff did not act illegally and claims Prof Rodwell’s recommendations for what to do with the site now accord with their own advice.
Prof Rodwell, a visiting professor of archaeology at the University of Reading, was commissioned by the St Margaret’s with St Nicholas Forum, a community group representing residents of the ward, to compile the report and visited the site on Sunday.
He said a machine-dug service trench had destroyed masonry at the west ends of the chapel, while medieval limestone masonry, other artefacts and human and animal bones had been left exposed.
His report claimed the council had not sought planning consent or a licence to disturb human remains, breaching the laws on those issues, and that no study or archaeological watching brief had been arranged.
He added: “There can be no excuse for such overt breaches and irresponsible actions.
“The site is at the very heart of medieval King’s Lynn and its archaeological importance has never been in doubt.”
However, the council said Prof Rodwell had been “misinformed” over the legal position.
Officials insist no planning permission is needed for the work and that appropriate licences were obtained once the remains were discovered. They also say they worked with Canon Chris Ivory, of King’s Lynn Minster, to ensure the remains were dealt with properly.
The authority also maintains that a desktop study was carried out before the work began and the remains were closer to the surface than had been previously thought.
Council leader Nick Daubney said: “We take King’s Lynn’s heritage very seriously and have invested heavily in it over the years.
“We were aware of the possibility of finding something in this area and acted appropriately in the light of that knowledge.
“We have done nothing illegal, have taken the best advice available and followed all the correct procedures.”
Prof Rodwell has recommended the best solution for the site would be to backfill the site and mark out the footprint of the chapel.
He added: “With a new, properly thought-out scheme, it might be possible in the future to uncover and present the chapel in a responsible manner.”
He has also called for further excavation work to take place and for an application to be made to English Heritage to list the site as an Ancient Monument.
However, the council says it plans to use ground penetrating radar to identify and mark out the chapel’s full footprint. It says they have been advised that additional excavation may cause further damage.
And Mr Daubney added: “Having now received a copy of Professor Rodwell’s report, I am even more confident that we have acted appropriately and made the right decision in order to protect another piece of this town’s magnificent heritage.”