What is an Archaeological Desk Based Assessment?

An Archaeological Desk Based Assessment (DBA) is a desktop appraisal using existing archaeological and historical information to determine any potential archaeological heritage assets and their impact on a site.  

They include important supporting information, usually submitted to a Local Planning Authority as part of a planning application and alongside a suite of other supporting documentation.

When do I need a DBA?

A DBA is usually completed for due diligence purposes to inform on land purchases, likely development budgets, or undertaken early within a development application process to inform design proposals of any archaeological opportunities or constraints. It is commonplace that a DBA is required to support development schemes, in particular on greenfield sites given their potential to contain undisturbed archaeological remains, and on known heritage sites such as former industrial sites.

If a site is located within (or close proximity to) a World Heritage Site, Scheduled Monument, Registered Battlefield, Protected Wreck site or Archaeological Priority Area or similarly locally defined area of archaeological potential, then it is very likely that a DBA will be required to inform design proposals as the possibility of archaeological remains being present may have a material impact upon a development scheme.

Additionally, relevant local planning policy may require a programme of archaeological work to support a planning application, and it may be possible to satisfy this requirement with a DBA.

The requirement or not for a DBA to support a planning application can usually be clarified with a Local Planning Authority via pre-application advice.

What should I expect to see within a DBA?

A DBA could take on various forms, depending upon the purpose for which it is produced. It could be a purely below ground archaeology-focused assessment, or there could be an inclusion of above ground heritage assets as well. In addition, should any known designated heritage or non-designated assets be present nearby, then there may be a requirement for an assessment of development impact upon the setting and therefore significance of those assets. This adds to the complexity of a DBA.

However, as a minimum, you should normally expect to see the following included within a DBA:

  • A Summary or Abstract
  • A review of relevant national, regional and local planning policy for archaeology and heritage
  • A review of available, relevant topographic and geological information
  • A review of all evidence held at the relevant Historic Environment Record(s) (HER), and if necessary the National Monuments Record, including all relevant published and unpublished reports for the surrounding area
  • An historic map regression charting the previous land use history of the site
  • The identification of significant archaeological or heritage issues that may pose a constraint to the proposed development
  • A review of the potential (below ground) impacts of the proposed development
  • Recommendations to successfully mitigate against any archaeological issues to allow development to proceed and the likely extent of such works
  • Bibliographic References.

How long does it take to produce a DBA?

A DBA is a quick, cost-effective means of achieving an initial overview of the archaeological potential of a possible development site and to inform whether there are any potential archaeological opportunities/constraints to development. It is usually possible to produce a DBA within 10-15 working days depending on the site’s location and complexity although a priority service may be possible.

Find out more


Matthew Smith

Senior Director - Heritage T: + 44 7834345167 Email
London - Farringdon Street | UK

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