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The Importance of Incorporating Heritage Issues

Existing Constraints

There are significant risks and pitfalls related to the appreciation and management of archaeological and built heritage issues within a scheme. However these risks and pitfalls are often complicated by an incorrect appreciation and outright management of such issues.

Sometimes there is a risk that heritage can be seen as rather inconsequential and ‘not as important’ as other project inputs, such as initially more tangible design works.

There is also a lack of appreciation as to the true level of the archaeological resources in the UK as in many cases, it is partially or totally buried. Taking a few well known examples of historic designations, in the UK there are currently:

  • approximately 1,600 Registered Parks and Gardens

  • roughly 9,300 Conservation Areas

  • almost 20,000 Scheduled Monuments

  • over 370,000 Listed Buildings, and

  • an estimated 1.43 million items recorded on Historic Environment Records

Estimates suggest that such designation represent less than 5% of all potential historic sites (www.culture.gov.uk), so the scale of archaeological resources and therefore the potential risks to a development scheme quickly become apparent.

Legal & Planning Requirement

In any development project there is an obligation to assess and protect any significant archaeological or built heritage remains.
Yet despite the existence of current legislation covering this sector, it is still all too common to see planning applications being submitted with little or no consideration of the historic environment in the layout and design of the development scheme.

In some cases, where early archaeological desk-top assessment works have been submitted along with a planning application, it is often evident that they have been:

  • tagged onto a project almost as an after-thought

  • produced subsequent to ‘design freeze’

  • offering little or no scope to alter the design quickly and cost effectively on the drawing board, and

  • undertaken by a non-specialist, due to the incorrectly perceived simplicity of the process and a belief it will ‘speed up’ the development process’ and enable financial savings to be made.

Project Risk

Unfortunately, the above misconceptions can lead to the risk of incorrect inclusion and management of heritage into project planning and, the reality is, this can have significant ramifications. These include the risk that an application will be rejected and development delayed, or that the incorrect form of mitigation works are signed up to by a developer, keen to progress their works, without understanding the true risk and costs.

Where an inappropriate strategy is employed the danger exists that unplanned and unbudgeted for additional works or archaeological remains are discovered during the construction phase of works. The developer then needs to mitigate such remains at a late stage, halting works in either part or on all of the site until it is adequately achieved or, in a worst case scenario, undertaking last minute design changes.

If significant remains are discovered then works on site may have to be suspended. The upfront cost in implementing priority, last moment archaeological services alone can be large but when put alongside the potential knock-on repercussions, the true costs of such financial requirements and delays can be extremely significant. These include:

  • Stopping of the construction crew and plant machinery for any length of time;

  • Missing contractual commitments given to build out within a certain timeframe, leading to financial penalties; and

  • The actual delay in the opening of a new development to potential customers.

Under current planning policy guidelines, the requirement to meet the financial burden of meeting all these additional costs lie squarely at the door of the developer, under the ‘polluter pays’ ethos. This financial obligation exists in almost every scenario, unless contractual agreements have been put in place to share project risk or limit liability in some way between a number of groups involved in the scheme (e.g. on-site contractor, project management team, architects etc).

From a financial perspective, however, it is easy to understand that, when such costs are not factored into the overall budget, the only place left for them to come from is the project profit margins. Where such profit margins are finally balanced it could ultimately mean the difference between project success and project failure.

What can be done?

It is therefore important that landowners / developers:

  • are aware of their environmental responsibilities

  • implement a review of heritage issues in the initial planning stage of a project. Early advice is vital in guiding and negotiating the requirements of a council archaeologist

  • take early advice from independent and professionally qualified archaeological advisors such as AB Heritage on the known or potential archaeological resource of a site, and

  • following receipt of advice this may impact on the decision to acquire a site or for a development to proceed or at a minimum will allow early budgeting, planning and feasibility studies.


The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists have pubished a useful guide for clients looking to engage a professional archaeology consultancy. Click on on image to download.

Factoring archaeological and heritage advice and works into a project from the start can help to ensure project success. It reduces the risk of “hitting the unexpected” and the ultimate cost of the project.