The purpose of a desk-based assessment is to ascertain the archaeological character of a specific area or site. This is usually carried out through the examination of known archaeological and historical records and documents, with the results being presented in an illustrated report. Assessments of this kind are often commissioned to support planning applications in areas of known archaeological activity to help Local Planning Authorities determine the merits of a proposal in archaeological terms. In some instances, the results of the assessment are also used to inform a strategy for the implementation of a field evaluation to further support an application. The use of desk-based assessment is advised in The National Planning Policy Framework (2012). Paragraph 128 states:
“In determining applications, local planning authorities should require an applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting. The level of detail should be proportionate to the assets’ importance and no more than is sufficient to understand the potential impact of the proposal on their significance. As a minimum the relevant historic environment record should have been consulted and the heritage assets assessed using appropriate expertise where necessary. Where a site on which development is proposed includes or has the potential to include heritage assets with archaeological interest, local planning authorities should require developers to submit an appropriate desk-based assessment and, where necessary, a field evaluation.”
The majority of desk-based assessments are commissioned as a result of consultation between a developer and the county Historic Environment Team and to a lesser extent as a result of direct consultation between the developer and archaeological contractor. In any event, assessments are advised at an early stage of the development proposal process. Any assessment incorporates a study of a number of core datasets and these include Historic Environment Records, historical documents and maps, and pictorial evidence including aerial photographs.
This information is collected from a range of repositories that often include county Record Offices/Heritage Centres, Historic Environment Service offices, Libraries and Local Studies sections, Museums, Archaeological Society libraries, English Heritage archive collections, and online sources. A walk-over survey of the area/site is also carried out to ascertain the presence or absence of any physical archaeological evidence.
At Context One, we undertake desk-based assessments for a wide range of areas and sites, from small urban developments to rural housing schemes up to 50 hectares and beyond. Regardless of the size, we apply the same rigorous approach to our research in order to present our clients with a comprehensive and robust assessment of a site’s archaeological potential. And we do this without blinding our clients with technical jargon – just plain English with high quality illustrations. Our team are skilled in both archaeological and historical research, and coupled with our extensive knowledge of information sources across the South-West, we believe we offer an extremely cost-effective, highly efficient and professional assessment service.