What to Expect from a Phase 1 Desk Study: Key Insights

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Phase 1 Desk Studies are a crucial initial step in assessing the environmental and geotechnical suitability of a site for development. They offer valuable insights that help stakeholders make informed decisions about property development and environmental management. Here’s what you can expect from a Phase 1 Desk Study.

Understanding the Basics

Definition and Purpose

A Phase 1 Desk Study, also known as a Preliminary Risk Assessment (PRA), is a comprehensive review of existing information about a site to identify potential environmental risks and historical land use issues. The primary objective is to determine whether there is any likelihood of contamination or other hazards that could affect the site’s development or use.

Scope of the Study

The study covers various aspects, including historical land use, environmental records, geological and hydrogeological conditions, and current site conditions. By compiling and analyzing this information, the study aims to provide a clear picture of any potential risks associated with the site.

Key Components of a Phase 1 Desk Study

Historical Land Use Review

One of the primary components of a Phase 1 Desk Study is an examination of the site’s historical use. This involves:

  • Historical Maps: Reviewing old maps to identify past uses of the land, which can reveal previous industrial activities, waste disposal sites, or other potential sources of contamination.
  • Aerial Photographs: Examining aerial photos to track changes in land use over time.
  • Land Registry Records: Checking ownership records to understand past ownership and any associated activities.

Site Walkover

A physical inspection of the site, known as a site walkover, is conducted to gather firsthand observations. During this visit, the consultant looks for:

  • Visible Signs of Contamination: Staining, unusual odors, distressed vegetation, or other indicators of contamination.
  • Current Land Use: Assessing how the land is currently being used and noting any potential hazards or issues.

Environmental Database Searches

Environmental database searches are conducted to gather data on:

  • Pollution Incidents: Records of any pollution incidents in or near the site.
  • Landfills and Waste Sites: Locations of nearby landfills, waste sites, and hazardous material storage.
  • Industrial Activities: Information about industrial activities that might have impacted the site.

Geological and Hydrogeological Assessments

Understanding the site’s geology and hydrogeology is essential for assessing risks:

  • Geological Assessments: Examining soil and rock formations to determine stability and suitability for construction.
  • Hydrogeological Assessments: Assessing groundwater conditions to identify potential contamination pathways and water table levels.

Planning and Regulatory Reviews

A thorough review of planning records and regulatory frameworks helps identify any legal constraints or requirements:

  • Planning Applications: Previous and current planning applications related to the site.
  • Local Planning Policies: Relevant local policies that might affect development plans.
  • Environmental Regulations: Applicable regulations that must be adhered to during development.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Risk Assessment

The data gathered during the study is analyzed to assess potential risks. This involves identifying:

  • Sources of Contamination: Possible origins of contamination, such as industrial activities or waste disposal sites.
  • Pathways: Routes through which contaminants could migrate, such as through soil, water, or air.
  • Receptors: Entities that could be affected by contamination, including humans, wildlife, and water sources.

Evaluation of Findings

The consultant evaluates the likelihood and severity of identified risks, determining whether further investigation is necessary. This might involve recommending a Phase 2 Site Investigation to conduct more detailed testing and analysis.

Reporting and Recommendations

Comprehensive Report

The final deliverable of a Phase 1 Desk Study is a detailed report that includes:

  • Executive Summary: A concise overview of the findings and conclusions.
  • Introduction: Background information on the site and the purpose of the study.
  • Methodology: Description of the methods used to gather and analyze information.
  • Findings: Detailed results from the historical review, site walkover, database searches, and geological/hydrogeological assessments.
  • Risk Assessment: Evaluation of potential risks, including identified sources, pathways, and receptors.
  • Conclusions and Recommendations: Summary of findings, conclusions, and any recommended actions, such as further investigations or remediation measures.

Informed Decision Making

With the insights gained from a Phase 1 Desk Study, stakeholders can make informed decisions about the site’s development and management. This helps in planning for potential risks, complying with regulatory requirements, and avoiding unexpected issues and costs during later stages of the project.


A Phase 1 Desk Study is an essential tool for anyone involved in property development, environmental consultancy, or land management. By providing a thorough understanding of a site’s history, current condition, and potential risks, these studies enable stakeholders to make informed, proactive decisions. Understanding what to expect from a Phase 1 Desk Study ensures you are prepared to navigate the complexities of environmental and geotechnical assessments


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