Site Analysis Desktop Study

Site Analysis Desktop Study

Site Analysis Desktop study 02

There are many aspects to carrying out a site analysis and the desktop study makes up an important part of the site analysis.


We have made a short video all about carrying out a desktop study for your site analysis. Check it out below:


Before you visit the site, there is a lot of information you can gain from a desktop study. By carrying out thorough research prior to your visit to site, you will arrive well informed, and possibly have identified specific things that you want to check or look out for on your site visit.

Prior to your site visit it may be necessary to obtain an OS map of the site. From this, and from client information you can clarify the location of site boundaries.

By carrying out a site analysis desktop study, you will preparing yourself for your site visit, and developing an idea of what you need to look for when you are on site, and what you may need to take with you on your site visit.

Below we summarise some of the information you can gain by carrying out a site analysis desktop study. After, we will explore where to find this information.


  • Location and orientation of the site
  • General size of the site and boundary
  • Context of the site – what are the surrounding buildings or land?
  • Access to the site
  • Vegetation both within and surrounding the site
  • Geological maps to discover predominant type of soil or rock on the site.
  • Aerial photographs and maps (google and bing have really useful and quite different aerial images). Historical maps can also be interesting.
  • Distances and travel times between the site and other locations of importance
  • Site levels (from a topographical survey)

Legal Information:

  • Rights of way, rights of access, Town and Country Planning restrictions, is the site in a green belt?
  • History of the site – anything you can use to inform your design. Any tunnels, disused mines, archaeological interests under the site could curtail development.
  • Historical use of the site – could industrial processes have contaminated the land?
  • If the site sits in a conservation area or close to listed buildings you may need to go into more detail regarding cultural significance, historic significance, etc.
  • Developmental controls – is the site subject to any specific planning controls, building control or health and safety?
  • Are there any trees on the site? Do they have Tree Preservation Orders on them?


  • Determine whether water, electricity, gas, telephone, sewerage and other services are connected to the land.


  • Climate conditions of the site/area.
  • Sun path and angles.
  • Is the area susceptible to flooding, is it considered a flood risk area?
Site Analysis Complete Pack

Where to find site analysis desktop study information



There are a number of useful websites that will help you get started with your site analysis desktop study. As always, a great starting point is google! Google maps offer some really in depth information, but don’t forget about Bing Maps too. Just by visiting these two websites you will be able to establish much of the information in the Location section above.

Google maps for:

  • Traffic
  • Aerial view
  • Cycle paths
  • Road information

Google map showing traffic

Use the typical traffic settings to view traffic flows on different days and at different times

Use google maps to display cycle routes

Use google maps for satellite views

Use google maps to show terrain

Use google maps for street view

Bing Maps for:
Ordenance survey
Alternative aerial view

Bing Maps options

Bing Maps for Ordinance survey

Google earth for:
3d aerial and terrain view
Historical maps
Measure and area tools

Google Earth for satellite views

Google earth for 3d buildings

google earth for terrain

Google Earth to view (recent) historical maps

Map in 2004

Map in 2017

Google earth for measuring distances, areas etc

Topographical surveys for:
More accurate and detailed information (boundaries, fence lines, buildings, structures, services, street furniture, natural features such as trees, vegetation, ponds, lakes, watercourses, contours).

Topographical Survey


Topographical survey


Planning information

A lot of information can be gleaned from planning websites. Firstly, you can search planning applications to find out what applications have been submitted, granted and declined both on your site and in the surrounding area. This is really valuable information so it is worth taking a bit of time to check it out. Planning applications are available for public access and can be found on every local council website.

Planning Portal and council websites for:

Planning history


Conservation areas

Planning guidelines (local plans and guides)

Other useful websites

Some other websites that will provide useful information listed below:

Historical maps

Flood risk checks

Environment agency for flood maps, river info, landfills, and lots of useful data

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Conservation areas

Coal mining areas

Climate information

In Conclusion


Some information is not freely available, but a client or their legal representative should be able to clarify any issues regarding rights of way, rights of light, legal easements and any rights of tenants.

I like to look at the desktop study as carrying out a bit of detective work. You are trying to find out as much as you can about the site – don’t discard any information – you never know when it might be useful later. 

If you have an OS map or a topographical survey I always find it is good to print a few copies off so that you can mark information directly onto the plan, any important features, views etc. 

There are many more things to look at, and each site is very different, but hopefully this will give you a starting point for getting the best out of your site visit. 

Check out our Full Site Analysis Guide with complete download pdf with checklists!

Architecture Site Analysis Guide

Download our site analysis symbols for photoshop!

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