archaeologist brushing excavation site

Assessing and managing archaeological risk - why developers should take an interest

Simon McCudden Principal Consultant
Simon McCudden

Simon has 30 years’ experience of working on a variety of environmental and construction projects, as a Project Archaeologist, Project Manager, and as a Principal Consultant. He has led and managed heritage teams throughout the life cycle of a project, from the survey and field requirements through to final reports and attending public inquiries as an expert witness for archaeology.

Simon has experience in the assessment of risks to/from archaeology/heritage when managing projects for a wide variety of clients. Simon has a detailed knowledge and experience in the negotiation and delivery of specific agreements with consultees regarding archaeology and heritage issues as part of Statements of Common Ground (SoCG).

Although below ground archaeology is a key requirement on many development projects in the UK and elsewhere, the issue of archaeology can often be underestimated and misunderstood by developers and their design teams.

In our experience, archaeology should be approached in a proactive manner, rather than as a reaction to planning requirements, or as a financial burden for developers to ‘remove a problem’. By being proactive, the developer is in control of the situation, rather than being on the back foot.

A proactive approach starts with the feasibility/due diligence stage, where a developer will consider sites to identify risks and opportunities for a proposed development. The developer will start, at this point, to assign potential costs as part of their financial return for a development. They will also look to assign an overall timetable for progressing a site at this stage. These are both steps in the direction of submitting a planning application, however the financial analysis for a development is started far in advance of the planning application actually being submitted.

If the process of addressing archaeology is not fully understood, archaeology can cause delays to both the planning stage, and subsequent construction programme. And while the cost for undertaking archaeological works on most sites, compared with the development cost, is generally modest, it is the delays to a programme which will hurt a developer’s timetable, and potentially their financial return on a development.

So, to engage in a proactive approach to archaeology, there are some key questions for developers and their consultant advisers to consider:

What benefits will a developer receive from spending resources on archaeology?

  • Developers will benefit for a combination of reasons, first and foremost, by being in control of the archaeological process rather than being led by a local authority consultee or an archaeological contractor.
  • Knowing the costs of archaeology, in advance, means that the developer can identify where these costs are within their overall project costs – e.g., there will be no surprises.
  • Delays to a project will also be kept to a minimum because the developer will have been able to have time to be able to consider a Plan B if needed.

How can a developer measure success in relation to archaeology?

There are three significant ways of measuring success in relation to archaeology. Firstly, financial success can be measured by prior planning anticipating costs so these can be accommodated, and not exceeded. Additionally, in a successful example, programme delays are either planned as part of the overall risk assessment of the project, or not do occur at all. And finally, success can be measured around sustainability goals as well – leaving the areas of archaeology in situ would be optimum, and is explained below.

Can a more sustainable approach be considered? E.g., can we leave the archaeology in the ground?

Yes, archaeology can be left in the ground or in situ. However, developers and their design teams need to be more positive and to think about this approach from the start of assessing archaeology within their development sites.

In far too many instances, the approach by developers and their design teams is to spend first to remove archaeology, as a problem, rather than looking from the start of the design/planning process and following a more sustainable and cost benefit approach towards archaeology.

A good example of preservation in situ is the substantial remains of a Roman villa, left within a large green space on a major housebuilder’s development at Ingleby Barwick nr Stockton on Tees. The original proposed layout for the development had numerous green spaces. Following the discovery of a Roman Villa via geophysical survey, all of the proposed green spaces were merged into one green space, and the Roman Villa is now preserved in situ.

Each site will have a different experience and outcome, but by engaging early with archaeology developers can:

  • Assess risk at the most manageable and least impactful time
  • Avoid – or at least manage – potential delays
  • Minimise commercial risks by following a sustainable and cost benefit approach

SLR has provided archaeology expertise on numerous projects; please get in touch to discuss yours.

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If you have any questions, or would like to discuss a project, our team would be happy to hear from you. Find out more