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How To Manage Archaeology In The Development Process

I recently gave a CPD presentation in Exeter. It was to a team of planning and design consultants and it was on ‘how best to manage archaeology within the development process’. It was a very engaged audience and the discussion afterwards was really fascinating.

One of the more commonly asked questions from these kind of event came up again, which I thought I would share with you now.

In a nutshell, although it can be expressed in a variety of ways, it is: ‘how much does archaeology cost?’ The short answer is, that without at least some information on what might be planned, I simply couldn’t guess and no Archaeologist could.

‘Not Very helpful so far, Andy’, might be your initial thought; but it might help if I frame my answer in terms of buying a house.

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So, if we were chatting about houses and I asked how much it would cost to buy a house in the UK, what would you say? Well, I’m assuming you might tell me about the wide difference in prices between areas (before we even discuss London and the South East). You might then mention the other variations, such as: what size it is; whether it’s leasehold or freehold; is it a new build or existing property; am I demolishing an existing property first or renovating a wreck; how many bathrooms or bedrooms does it have; is it part of a luxury complex or a line of terrace houses, etc.

With no specific idea of what we are looking for in a house search, we know the answer of what it would cost would range from tens of thousands to potentially many millions, depending on what we want to buy.

It’s the same principle for archaeology and heritage works. The cost isn’t a question of ‘how long is a piece of string’ but ‘what are the specifications of the string you want to buy’. Exciting stuff!

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When you plan for your house purchase, you are careful to weigh up the many choices, options and challenges so you make the best informed decisions to find your perfect home. However, when planning a development costing millions of pounds, surprisingly, developers sometimes fail to consider archaeology along with other important early assessments.

Maybe it’s because archaeology is buried (out of sight out of mind, as they say), or maybe, due to not having a clear understanding of where to start the ball rolling, the vital early planning works can sometimes take a back seat to the more tangible and visible works on a project itself. Whatever the reason it would be like turning up at an estate agent with a small and completely fixed amount of money set aside for buying a house and saying ‘Right, I need a new home, I’m not sure where it will be, what size it should be, what it should look like yet, but I will need it ready for next week. What will it cost, I have X amount?’. I am going to break it to you gently here – it’s not going to be the most positive discussion that you might imagine.

So, on the journey back home from my presentation, I came up with two key points to keep in mind when starting a development, which I wanted to share with you here:

1. Forewarned is Forearmed


As part of site selection, or early outline design works, speak to an archaeologist for a very high level feasibility survey. There are later forms of assessment and investigation works than can be employed when you are further along the road, but these early door works, which we call Initial Site Heritage Appraisals at AB Heritage, provide a rapid and very cost effective understanding on what constraints you might face as you progress.

2. Know your Budget

The saying goes ‘a budget is knowing where your money is needed rather than wondering where it went’ and this is something I can’t stress enough for your archaeological and heritage works. Make sure, from the start, that when you build your cost model you ask your archaeologist for a reasoned estimate budget for potential archaeology based on your current plans.

Yes, the figures will need to be refined and targeted as you move forward but even a best guess following feasibility can help avoid significant risk later in the day. Better to be in a position where you can scope down, or knock out completely, these costs at a later date, rather than have to lose large sums from the final profit margins due to late identification of significant heritage assets.

Anyway, simple message: plan early and be proactive. Hopefully the above is of use, and I am always available to talk through any questions you may have but, in the meantime, I wish you all the best and I hope, wherever you are in your works, that plans are going smoothly.

Best Wishes


Contact Andy

Images above:

If AB Heritage can help you with a CPD presentation, please make contact with Kim McDonald

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