Piling equipment.
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Installing sections of a preformed concrete pile. © Roger Bullivant Limited
Installing sections of a preformed concrete pile. © Roger Bullivant Limited

Revising Historic England Guidance on Piling and Archaeology

Turning research into best-practice advice.

Most buildings require foundations to keep them upright. In certain ground conditions and for larger buildings, piles are often the preferred type of foundation.

Where construction takes place in historic towns and cities, there is a risk that new piling could damage below-ground archaeological deposits.

To explain how harm from new foundations can be reduced, Historic England has been working to update our guidance on this subject.

This guidance note provides information on piling types, impacts, and solutions for sustainable foundation design and is illustrated by case studies.
Piling and Archaeology
Published 19 March 2019

This guidance note has been prepared to assist planning authorities and archaeological officers, developers and their consultants to make clear and informed decisions about piling schemes and their potential impact upon archaeological remains. It provides information on piling types, impacts, and solutions for sustainable foundation design and is illustrated by case studies.

Learn more

Why we revised the guidance

The original guidance document, published in 2004, was based on many years of previous research and observations of past piling impacts on archaeological remains. Since then, we have commissioned further research to look at the damage caused by previous foundation schemes, collated examples of pile impacts from across Europe, and been involved with additional laboratory scale-model analysis.

In the new guidance the developer is required to demonstrate how their piling design will avoid harming the significance of any archaeological remains present on the site.

This research has helped to refine sections of the guidance on the impact of a range of different pile types. The other major area of revision has reflected the changes to Government planning guidance over the past few years. This has led to a shift in emphasis in our advice away from keeping damage to below a fixed proportion, to one where the developer is required to demonstrate how their piling design will avoid harming the significance of any archaeological remains present on the site.

Piling equipment.
Installing sections of a preformed concrete pile. © Roger Bullivant Limited

Collaborative authoring across the professions

Engineers, local authority archaeologists and archaeological contractors have joined with Historic England to produce the new guidance, helping to make the research reflect real-life practical experience.

We have also changed the way we have written this guidance document, and bought in a group of engineers, local authority archaeologists and archaeological contractors to form a collaborative authoring team. This enabled us to blend our new research findings with real-life practical experiences from across different specialist areas.

A human skeleton from a burial damaged by piling.
An example of previous piling impacts. © University of Leicester Archaeological Services. © University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

About the author

Jim Williams

Jim Williams, PhD, MCIfA

Senior Science Advisor, Historic England

Jim has coordinated the updating of the piling guidance and is the lead author of the guidance on Preserving Archaeological Remains. He is responsible for managing nine science advisors based across England who provide archaeological science advice to Historic England Inspectors of Ancient Monuments and local planning archaeologists. He currently gives archaeological science advice to HS2, the high-speed rail route to the midlands and north of England.

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