Archaeological contractors pitfall - guide for developers

Procuring an archaeological contractor – how to avoid the pitfalls (part 1)

Advice for developers: beware of the cheap quotation…

Part one of a two part article by Helen Martin-Bacon of Commercial Archaeology.

Procuring an archaeological contractor – how to avoid the pitfalls (part 2) »

At some point in time most individuals or organisations involved in development, whether they are developers, architects, planners or strategic land managers have encountered the need to deal with the presence of archaeological remains within a proposed development site. 

For example, at planning application stage the Local Planning Authority may have required them to commission a Heritage Impact Assessment or Desk Based Assessment as well as a programme of archaeological evaluation comprising geophysical survey and trial trenching.

Condition of planning consent

Where an archaeological evaluation has verified the presence of archaeological remains within the boundaries of a proposed scheme a condition of planning consent will require them to undertake further archaeological investigation (known as mitigation) prior to development commencing.

In all of the above situations there will be a need to engage the services of a commercial archaeological contractor. In some cases, those who work in development within a planning led environment may already have an archaeological contractor that they consider tried and trusted but when this is not the case they will necessarily have to procure the services of an archaeological contractor – and this is where things can go horribly wrong.

The world of commercial archaeology is highly competitive and most often the final arbiter of winning a job is seen by both commercial units and developers alike to be price rather than quality.

There are many very good professional archaeological units across the UK who, against the odds on many occasions, carry out high quality archaeological work in accordance with all of the industry standards and who fulfil the requirements of their clients in informing planning applications and discharging planning conditions.

“Buying” the work

However, the reality is that often the archaeological unit’s desire to provide high quality work is constrained by the low fees they charge in order for them to win jobs. Unfortunately, when units nevertheless carry out professional industry standard work despite their low fee they may only break even or make a very small profit on a project.

Worst case scenario – they may have write off.

Of course, this is probably true of other contracting industries but it is particularly pronounced in commercial archaeology.

Procuring an archaeological contractor – how to avoid the pitfalls (part 2) »

Further information

Heritage Impact Assessments »

Developers’ guide to archaeological evaluation »

Geophysical survey – techniques used in archaeology »

Trial trenching pros and cons »