Archaeology: a friend or foe of construction?

Each development project needs quantity surveying. Often, construction professionals also need help with estimating costs of the project and assistance with tendering. One of the specific features of developing business in London is the likelihood of archaeological concerns being part of the equation.

Recently large-scale archaeological project have been carried out by commercial archaeologists in London, for instance, burials at Payne Road, Commercial Road and Southwark, each containing thousands of burials. However, it is not just exhumations that a potential site developer must be aware of.

The new PPS5: Planning for the Historic Environment outlines planning policy guidance for Archaeology and Planning. It equates traditional archaeological excavations with developing and refurbishment of historic buildings – in terms of how construction professionals should approach the planning process.

According to the regulations, the developer has to pay for the cost of all archaeological operations on the site. In addition, the developer covers the costs of the results of the excavations being published in peer-reviewed journals. Commercial consultants provide estimating services so that these costs are included in the project from the beginning.

London is densely built and it is likely that a developing project will encounter some sort of a historic building, burial, or structure on the site or adjacent to it. It is not just the look of a historic structure that matters, but the fact that its composition is preserved for history. A building does not even have to be listed in order to be considered historic.

Before starting a project, it is essential that developers work alongside local planning authority’s (LPA) “curatorial archaeologist”. This is especially important at the pre-application stage. Curatorial archaeologists will not start archaeological investigations unnecessarily. They will only ask to evaluate about a quarter of all applications, out of which only a very small percentage will constitute genuine archaeological value.

Avoid financial losses and wasted time

Ignoring archaeology costs more than incorporating it into the developing project from the start. Opting for a desk study instead of a proper archaeological evaluation will not deliver the desired result of a planning permission. Neither will the submission of a “written scheme of archaeological investigations”. Only by working together with the LPA’s archaeological officer can the developer ensure their project is firmly within regulations.

When hiring a commercial archaeological company to do the work on the site, proper planning and approach are essential, archaeology need not be a hindrance on the way of development projects.