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Why the construction and development industry today demands real value from its archaeology

Taryn Nixon -Taryn Nixon Heritage Works, Christina Holloway - MOLA, Kate Geary - CIfA, Peter Hinton - CIfA, and Gillian King - MOLA, authors of CIRIA’s Archaeology and construction good practice guidance (C799), consider the role of archaeology as part of construction today.

The construction industry has undergone seismic changes in recent years. Today, emerging from a global pandemic facing the challenges of climate change, there can be little doubt that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And people are looking to planners, construction and development professionals to creating the sustainable infrastructure for our better future… And to build greener, safer and more efficiently, while delivering a whole suite of economic, environmental and social gains with each scheme. We work, today, to the precept of net gains.

So it’s no wonder that the construction industry looks at archaeology very differently today, to how it did, decades ago. 

Long-established as part of planning and construction in the UK, archaeology is an integrated element of construction and development. Importantly, it’s regarded for the opportunities it provides to add measurable value and impact. 

The Social Value Portal 2021 shows the UK construction industry as representing around GB£30 billion of social value opportunity. That’s the way to change the world! So it was important that the CIRIA guide shows how archaeology can be used to fulfil social value procurement commitments – and play an active and inspirational role in meeting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 

It was in this context and with a vastly changed planning regime that CIRIA set about updating its 2008 archaeology guide. CIRIA launched Archaeology and Construction: good practice guidance (C799) in October 2021. It’s a practical, accessible guide to managing archaeology as part of construction, creating significant and measurable commercial and public benefit value at each step of the project lifecycle.

So what does ‘good’ look like in practice?

The project steering group and author team have used generic stages to map the construction and archaeology processes, and identify key interfaces and outputs. By doing this, it’s easy to identify how to gain mutual understanding, and how to manage both process and output to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes. So the guide shows ‘what good looks like’ from pre-project and feasibility stages through the planning, detailed design and construction stages to end use. 

It was important to show good practice examples on projects of all scales, on land, coast and estuary. The guide includes lots of case studies from across the UK. There are examples of how archaeological work has been designed to contribute to scheme KPIs and performance targets. There are examples of how early contractor involvement means designing out uncertainty and saves on programme. There are examples of innovation in approach, and data sharing and digital modelling to make materials management more efficient and to reduce energy and carbon emissions. This is very practical guide, with step-by-step advice, emphasis on particular key messages and detailed, helpful checklists. It concisely explains underlying principles, planning and legal context (including how the planning system expects archaeology to create public benefits) and puts safety, health, environment and wellbeing at the foreground throughout.

The guide also reflects the enthusiasm across the construction and development sector today for the power archaeology can bring to place-making. Archaeology literally unearths stories and identities about people, and it fires and inspires the imagination and connection people need to have with the places they live, work and visit. The power of engaging story-telling can never be underestimated. It enables real belonging and connection with a place, and that is essential to both economically and socially successful places.

So today, the idea of consigning archaeology to the risk box would be seen as very short-sighted. Instead, the approach now is to make archaeology work hard and really use the fact that the project involves archaeology. 

While writing the guide, working with the project steering group and a wide range of construction and heritage sector consultees, one message was emphasised above all: when archaeology is managed as an integrated process by integrated teams working together from the outset toward shared goals, archaeology can create significant commercial value as well as social value and sustainability gains.

Order a copy of Archaeology and construction: good practice guidance (C799) from CIRIA online bookshop.