Wake-up call – What to do if your site is historically important

16 March 2012
Wake-up call – What to do if your site is historically important

Archaeological remains can considerably slow down a renovation and extension project. Legal expert David Johnson explains what to do if you suspect your site might be historically important

The problem

We are looking to renovate and extend a hotel that is listed and sits on a historically important site, with suspected archaeological remains. We are concerned this will slow down the work and add significant cost.

The law

Most renovation and extension projects will require planning consent and building regulation approval, but in the case of listed buildings on archaeologically sensitive sites, additional consents will also be required, inevitably extending the approvals process.

Under planning law, archaeological matters are a material consideration to be taken into account in deciding whether planning consent is given or rejected, or whether conditions should be attached to any planning consent. A local authority can require archaeological investigations to be carried out as a condition of giving planning permission, with obvious cost implications.

Also, if archaeological remains are found during the construction work, then the work must be stopped immediately and the finds reported, inevitably causing further delay.

In addition to normal planning permission and building regulation approval, listed building consent is required before any work is done to a listed building. If the building is listed as Grade I or II*, the local authority must consult with English Heritage before giving consent to any work. Work to a listed building will always be more expensive - any work has to be to a design and quality consistent with the original building, so economic modern materials and construction methods are often prohibited.

The law protects historic sites in a number of ways:

â- Parks, gardens and battlefields of special historic interest may be registered, and in this case the local authority is obliged to consult English Heritage and/or the Garden History Society before granting planning permission.

â- An area of interest can be designated as a Conservation Area, in which case Conservation Area Consent is also required from the local authority.

Expert advice

The need to obtain additional consents, in addition to the normal planning and building regulation approvals, often involving consultation with other parties, inevitably means that the preparatory stages of the project will be significantly extended, often by many months. This delay is inevitable, but can be minimised by appointing professional consultants who are experienced in heritage matters.

The regulators will be interested in the quality of the work, so consider appointing a contractor who also has heritage expertise. Be flexible and prepared to consult and negotiate extensively. And above all, do not be tempted to cut corners or to appoint a contractor or agree a start date for the works until all necessary consents are in place and, if required, the timetable for any architectural dig has been agreed.

Check list

â- Check the status of your building and site.

â- Appoint a consultant with experience in heritage matters.

â- Allow ample time for the approval and consultation process.

â- Ensure all consents are in place.

â- Ensure that the time frame for any dig has been agreed.

â- Consider using a specialist contractor.


The building contractor will be entitled to an extension of time if the works are delayed by the discovery of archaeological remains and may even be entitled to additional payment, underlining the importance of not agreeing a start date with the contractor until all the necessary consents are in place and any conditions, for example, in respect of archaeological investigations, have been discharged.


David Johnson is a partner at Boodle Hatfield


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