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When is land classed as contaminated?

For land to be classed as contaminated it will need to meet the official definition of contaminated land  This definition relies on terms such as ‘significant possibility’ of ‘significant harm’ being caused by substances in, on or under the land and therefore it is crucial to define what significant, possibility and harm mean for a specific site and situation .  Statutory guidance has been issued regarding this definition.

How can I tell if the land is contaminated?

To tell if a plot of land meets the official definition requires an assessment by a professional consultant who will need to instigate a staged assessment in accordance with government guidance.  Not all the stages (desktop study, Phase1, Phase 2 etc) may be needed and as soon as sufficient information is obtained, the assessment can stop. However, of crucial importance is the careful examination of historical maps, environmental data and survey information in order to both avoid liability and reduce assessment costs.

In addition, land which is currently classed as not contaminated with respect to its current use may be deemed contaminated by the development itself and the future use. The assessment process should therefore, if required, project the current site data into future use scenarios to assess potential liability and options for remediation.

Who has a duty of care in contaminated land issues?

The original polluter of land is officially the person responsible for liabilities relating to land contamination. This person will in many cases never be found and it is therefore the new owner who will be responsible. Consequently it is essential that the responsible person undertaking the property purchase or development understands the degree of risks and potential financial implications.

The owner will need to assess and remediate the land if needed. The owner is responsible for ensuring the regulators receive information as required and in a format dictated by the guidance.

Generally, the Local Authority is responsible for identifying and deciding on necessary action in relation to contaminated land in its area. In specific cases a Contaminated Land Officer will advise the Planning Department as to any conditions within planning permissions.  

The Environment Agency advises on issues relating to controlled waters and will act as a consultee to both the local authority and those involved in assessing land.

How can contaminated land affect the development process?

Quite simply it can halt a project all together. Not dealing with contaminated land in accordance with the guidance will delay planning permission and could threaten the whole viability of the project.

What are the consequences of a breach of contaminated land regulations?

Consequences of not complying with the legislation can result in serious financial costs, fines and in some cases imprisonment.

How can contaminated land be dealt with?

Solutions to contaminated land can range from the relatively simple

  • change the end use from say residential to commercial
  • increase the depth of concrete in a building foundation slab
  • place a fence around the site

to more complex remediation solutions.

  • vapour extraction of hydrocarbons
  • bio-pile remediation of organics
  • phyto-extraction of metals by plants

Professionals carrying out assessments will recommend the most appropriate and economic solution for the project. Contact one of our consultants on 01661 844 827 for further information.

For further information on contaminated land or soil surveys please visit Soil Environment Services  at