Skip to content


Geo Department Update

The Rolton Group’s Geotechnical department has experienced a flurry of work in recent months, winning significant contracts across a number of sectors.

Some of the biggest contributors to this heightened activity have been national housing builders, largely due to current movements in the property market. To better explain, here is some context:

Over time, companies acquire a stock of land for present and future development; historically, this has equated to several years’ worth of potential construction, offering them a comfortable buffer. When this latest recession arrived, however, a significant disparity emerged between what landowners were prepared to sell for and what developers were prepared to pay based on the depreciated market value. The result was that the house builders developed out their existing land banks over the following years, without replenishing their depleting stocks. During this time, the market slowed further, new builds became rarer, and homeowners stayed put, nervous about losing money by moving and the uncertain economy. The same story has played out in businesses throughout the UK, with new developments of any kind becoming more expensive and less viable.

As market prices have stabilised, expectations of price are now close to parity once again, and developers are beginning to replenish their land banks. This is an encouraging sign because their activity can act as a helpful barometer of the general economy; the housing market is generally the first to drop off when recession hits, and is now among the first to show nascent signs of wider recovery.

The Rolton Group is engaged at the very early stages of land acquisition, often at the pre-purchase stage of development. At this point, our engineers review any existing information held about the land and comment on potential risks of purchase and future liability from both geotechnical and geo-environmental perspectives for the site and immediate environs. They are able to assist the developer with the likely abnormal costs relating to engineering and reclamation issues. This is hugely important, not least because it ensures a sensible valuation, but also because it alerts the builders to their liability for whatever potential contaminants may be present on or under the site.

The next phase of works, which typically takes place post-purchase or as a proviso of a contract being signed, is the intrusive investigation. This may involve a combination of trial pits and/or bole holes, together with any necessary contamination testing, depending on the ground conditions, site history and development proposals for the site. Rolton engineers bring with them many years of proficiency in bringing sites up to standard, which is a particular asset when dealing with brownfield sites as is increasingly necessary. These sites particularly call for expertise in integrated geotechnical and geo-environmental analysis as they often contain a number of potentially contaminative elements; these plots of land will often come with historic pollution, but with years of experience and a portfolio of hundreds of projects to our name, we are extremely well placed to deal with whatever the ground reveals.