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Interview with Simon Levell, Site Liaison Manager for Northamptonshire Highways
Simon Levell is the Site Liaison Manager for Northamptonshire Highways, he spoke to us about his experiences of archaeology within large infrastructure projects and shares his tips on how to ensure that schemes run smoothly and successfully when archaeology is involved.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience of working on road schemes involving significant archaeology
I work for Northamptonshire Highways as part of KierWSP, their joint service provider. Most recently, I worked for the best part of 3 years on the A45 Daventry Link Road, from conception to the current ongoing construction stage. Every road scheme is different and archaeology might not play a major role in some, but on this particular project, the archaeological considerations were considerable. We worked with MOLA (formerly Northamptonshire Archaeology) from the very early stages of scoping out the landscape via desk-based assessments, which led to further investigation by geophysical survey and eventual mitigation
From our perspective, a thorough evaluation in the early stages is so important to find out exactly what you’re dealing with. We absolutely want to avoid unexpected surprises as they can be extremely costly to deal with.
2. Have you learnt any lessons from schemes you have been involved in that you would take forward on future schemes?
I would definitely recommend early collaboration. Prior to the A45 Daventry Link, Northamptonshire Highways worked on the A43 Corby Link Road. On this scheme, we could have engaged with archaeologists earlier to allow for adequate scoping investigation to minimise the amount of further archaeological investigation. Because we couldn’t demonstrate the absence of archaeology in certain areas it meant that, during the construction stage, the local planning officer required us to keep large areas clear of construction works while they were being archaeologically investigated. This caused a significantly large delay and extra cost. We learnt a great deal from this project and applied the lessons learnt to the A45. In fact, MOLA were very proactive in the early stages of the A45 scheme to help us to avoid a similar situation.
3. What advice would you give a junior colleague who was starting another large infrastructure project with the potential for a large archaeological component?
In addition to early collaboration, I would say build a strong relationship with your specialist advisors (such as archaeologists) and make maximum use of their knowledge. If there’s anything you’re concerned may have serious knock-on effects for delivery of the scheme, do raise them with your advisors and discuss with the planning authority. Remember, until you have begun site investigations, the route is really just a line on a map and you do not have key information as to how deliverable that route is. The investigation process can help you design to mitigate effects as far as reasonably practical.
On the A45 scheme we had 4 main archaeological hotspots and because of consultation with MOLA and early work, we were actually able to move the route a short distance to the south of the confirmed Iron Age enclosure, avoiding it completely, and also change the vertical alignment slightly to lessen the visual impact on the site of some Neolithic long barrows.
Overall, there is more room for negotiation than you might think if you engage the planner regarding these key decisions.
4. What are the benefits of collaboration between archaeologists and the wider team?
It is important to integrate the teams both at design and construction stage and ensure that communication is open. On site it is important that the main contractor is also aware of what will be happening and how archaeology will fit in with the programme, as the timescales and pressures are much more intense.
It is also extremely helpful to have constant points of contact throughout a project. Working with MOLA on the A45, the project manager was the same throughout the process which greatly aided communication and understanding of the project. Overall, we have been actively encouraged and helped by the team at MOLA. Needless to say, we work with other tier 2 contractors all the time and this can often be more challenging due to changes to personnel. Good management and consistency is crucial for a project.
MOLA gave archaeological advice and carried out digs on this large scale archaeology site in Northampton