Phase 1 Desktop Surveys

Paul Downing

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that construction output continued to fall this year. Compared to January last year output of all new work was 10% lower than in the first month of 2013. On a year-on-year basis output has now been falling for the past 13 months straight.

However, locally in the SE, there seems to be new activity with building plots springing to life and land that has seemed dormant for a few years is now coming to life with contractors and scaffolding appearing. Lets hope that the statistics are lagging behind what many have noticed happening on the ground. Consultancies have also reported a busy first quarter, with requests from developers for Phase 1 desktop surveys & Phase 2 contaminated land surveys increasing.

So what is a phase 1 desktop survey and why are they needed?

In essence, many desktop Phase 1’s are requested by banks, solicitors, developers or planning authorities in order to evaluate the risk of existing contaminated land at a new development or of new developments/operations contributing towards it.

The bottom line is risk – financial risk.

In order to provide funding for the development many banks and solicitors will require that the developer demonstrate that their project does not pose a high risk to the environment and that the impact is quantified.

Whilst completing a Phase 1 desktop survey, the site’s;

  • history
  • groundwater
  • soil
  • geology
  • operational history
  • planning history
  • ecology
  • situation
  • location
  • proposed development

and the considerations of regulator are all taken into account in order to quantify the risk as High/Medium or Low.

If the site is classified as High risk then consideration may be given to undertaking an intrusive Phase 2 survey where soil and groundwater samples are taken to further quantify risk. The Phase 2 work is far more costly and in depth than the Phase 1 desktop survey. Most residential developments only require a Phase 1 desktop survey and rarely progress towards a phase 2 contaminated land assessment unless the phase 1 identifies a real risk.

For more information on Phase 1 desktop surveys, please do not hesitate to contact us with you plot size, development details and postcode.


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