Is all this stuff about archaeology something new?
How does this all work?
What is the idea behind it all?
What form does this take?
Why do they think that there’s something there in the first place?
What do I do now?
How do I choose between competing quotations?
How do I appoint an archaeological contractor?

Q: Is all this stuff about archaeology something new?

A: The first heritage planning guidance documents (known as PPG 15 and PPG 16) were introduced in 1994 and 1990 respectively, under the Conservative government of the day. These were subsequently (late 2010) replaced by PPS 5: Planning for the historic environment. In its turn, this has now been replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework. Both of these documents, coincidently, also came into effect under a Conservative government.

Q: How does this all work?

A: The process begins when a planning application for a new development or change of use is submitted to the local planning authority (LPA – usually the district, town or city council). The elected councillors who sit on the Planning Committee consult various advisors on technical matters such as highways, environment and archaeology and historic buildings. The recommendations made by these advisors are boiled down into the conditions that finally appear on your planning permission, conservation area or listed building consent.

Q: What is the idea behind it all?

A: It is acknowledged that the owners of land or buildings have a right to ‘develop’ or improve them. This right, though, is not unrestrained. If the development will cause some damage to its surroundings (its environment) then it is believed to be reasonable for the person causing the damage (the developer) to provide some form of compensation (mitigation).

Q: What form does this take?

A: With regard to the historic environment, this usually takes the form of research and/or recording before or during the development. Sometimes too little is known of the local historic environment for the recording or research to be properly specified. In these circumstances an assessment, which may take the form of a documentary study (desk-based assessment) or a trial excavation (evaluation) may be required before the Planning Committee will consider the application further.

Q: Why do they think that there’s something there in the first place?

A: The person advising the Planning Committee will have consulted a collection of information known as a Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) or a Historic Environment Record (HER) for the relevant county. If the location of your development lies on or nearby a recorded archaeological site or is itself of historic interest, it is possible that there will be associated archaeological deposits affected by your proposals. Sometimes, if the development site is large enough (major housing development, quarry, etc) it will attract an archaeological condition on the basis of ‘balance of probability’ – ie in a large area there is a proportionally greater chance of an unknown archaeological site being present.

Q: What do I do now?

A: You have various options available to you.

  • If you have information that clearly proves that the advice given by the advisor to the LPA is incorrect you should present it to him/her and ask for the matter to be reconsidered. Such information would have to show that activities on the site in the past are at least likely, or certain, to have destroyed any archaeological deposits or historic interest anticipated to exist. If you can do this yourself then the cost will be that of photocopying documents, printing photographs and writing a letter. You could engage an archaeological consultant to do this for you but if you contemplate doing this you should consider:
    • the probability of success (as there will be a cost involved)
    • if the cost of the consultant is less than fulfilling the original condition
  • You can formally appeal against the condition. There are only certain grounds for appealing and there are usually time limits. You should consult the LPA in the first instance. You may need professional advice in preparing such an appeal and there will be a cost involved. In addition, there may be a significant delay before the appeal is heard.
  • Fulfil the condition. You should first obtain a ‘brief’ for the archaeological work from the advisor. Some advisors are now charging for this document. The LPA should be able to provide you with their contact details. The brief provides sufficient information to enable an archaeological contractor to write a methods statement (Written Scheme of Investigation or WSI) and work out a costing. Many (but not all) advisors will also provide a short list of contractors who commonly work in the local area. You are not obliged to use any of these contractors if you prefer to use another. The details of other contractors may be obtained from a variety of sources including the internet, yellow pages and the yearbook of the Institute for Archaeologists. The advisor will have a copy of this book and will probably allow you to inspect it on request.
  • Copies of the brief should be sent to at least two or three archaeological contractors, making it clear that they are being requested to provide a competitive tender. When you receive the WSsI, send a copy of them to the advisor, requesting him/her to identify those that do/do not fulfil his/her requirements. Again, some advisors now charge for this service and it may be more economical to undertake this stage yourself.
  • After you have received his/her comments, it is then usual to choose the cheapest quotation (but see below).

Q: How do I choose between competing quotations?

A: This can be tricky, even for professionals such as engineers or architects. First, weed out those WSsI that do not fulfil the advisor’s requirements. There is nothing to be gained by accepting one of these, even if one of them is the cheapest. Once you have done this there are some basic yardsticks you can employ to choose between the others.

Good signs are:
A detailed costing, clearly identifying what each bit of money is for
A fixed price
A clear explanation of any ‘contingency’ sums and the circumstances in which they will be used. In addition, guidance on how you may verify the need for any such contingencies.

Bad signs are:
A vague costing, perhaps only the total being given
A widely variable price, unless a clear explanation for this is given
Contingency sums for items almost certain to be needed (eg site visits, excavation of features, report)
No guidance on how to verify the need for contingencies.

Q: How do I appoint an archaeological contractor?

A: When you have chosen which quotation you wish to accept, write or email the archaeological contractor, appointing them to undertake the project. Include with your letter any plans that they have requested and contact details for the construction contractor, etc