Broadly speaking, property investors who have bought, or are considering buying, contaminated land will normally be required by legal statute to design a contaminated land management programme. This is the case whether they propose to develop the land for certain purposes (eg housing) or where the contamination represents (actually or potentially) an environmental or other threat to health. Contaminated land is defined by Section 78A(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as land where there are substances which could cause either: significant harm to people or protected species; or significant pollution of surface waters or groundwater.

Types of Land Contamination

Types of land contamination include, but are not limited to, such heavy metals as cadmium, arsenic and lead; oils and tars; chemical substances and preparations such as solvents; asbestos; gases; and radioactive substances. The sites affected by these types of contaminants are typically those that were formerly engaged in heavy industrial activities such as mining and steel manufacturing, in addition to disused refineries, some factories and landfills. The fact is, that if the land was used by industry in the past, it is likely to be contaminated to some degree, which is why a review process to ascertain the quality of the site is required.

Certain types of contaminated land are, incidentally, designated as special sites. Examples of these high risk sites are land that: seriously affects drinking water, surface water and important groundwater sources; has been, or is being, used for certain industrial activities, such as oil refining; is being or has been regulated using a permit issued under the integrated pollution control or pollution prevention and control regimes; has been used to get rid of waste acid tars; is owned or occupied by the Ministry of Defence; or is contaminated by radioactivity; or is a nuclear site. If a local authority decides that a specific area is a "special site", the latter will, depending on the location of the land, be regulated by the relevant English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish Environment Agency.

Contaminated Land Investigations

Your land could be investigated for a number of reasons, including when, for example, it is sold or let or proposed for development. Likewise, local councils may be inspecting land in their jurisdiction for pollution. In the event that your land is investigated, your local council or the relevant environment agency will assess the environmental risks and make a decision as to who is responsible for cleaning up any contaminated land, the financial costs of treatment possibly being very high indeed.

Depending on the nature and extent of your involvement with the land in question, you could be designated as either a "Class A person" if you caused or allowed the contamination or as a "Class B person" if you currently own or use the land. If the council or agency is unable in the first instance to identify the Class A person, perhaps owing to historical changes in land ownership, it's important to note that a Class B person may become primarily responsible for cleaning up the site. As the next step, the council or environment agency will decide exactly how the land should be cleaned up and serve a so-called ‘remediation notice’ on the polluter or other appropriate person, setting out the details as to how and by when the land must be cleaned up. If you are responsible for part or all of the clean-up operation, you will probably be able to agree a voluntary scheme for cleaning up the land. You will, however, be required to tell the relevant body the various procedures / steps you propose to take in order to clean up the land and make it safe.

If you are considering buying and developing affected land, you should initially contact your local authority to discuss your company's strategy for managing any soil and land contamination issues, in all cases ensuring that a correct assessment of the land is carried out, the data being carefully checked before any decisions are made.

It is worth noting that you may be entitled to government help with the expense of making the land safe. This assistance will normally take the form of capital allowances or enhanced tax relief and is intended to incentivise land remediation and the restoration of contaminated land. Further governmental guidance on this and other related issues can be found at:

Professional Land Remediation Services

There are, of course, a number of professional land remediation services which can manage any necessary remediation works. British companies, in fact, have unrivalled expertise in the area of the treatment of contaminated land, owing principally to the aforementioned rich industrial heritage, which has left us with so many brownfield sites in need of re-purposing. In recent years, there have been some hugely successful remediation projects undertaken across the UK.

The most prominent example is probably the remarkable clean-up of the 350 hectare area of East London that was transformed into the iconic Olympic Park for the 2012 London games. This was, naturally, one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken and it resulted in the metamorphosis of a neglected and decayed part of the Capital into a thriving and vibrant leisure and business centre. UK-based companies were at the very forefront of the historic transformation. But there are other - perhaps less dramatic - land remediation programmes taking place all the time, with former industrial plants being rendered safe and entirely suitable for new uses.

If you have a remediation project in mind or if you need expert assistance dealing with contaminated land, why not contact for more information on how our skilled professionals can help you, we will be able to lay out all the options for you, providing you with all the support, reports, information and documents that are involved in this complex area.

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These consultancy services have been designed to support the redevelopment, transaction, corporate decision-making or investment(s) in land and property. If you require something more bespoke, or a variation of any of the listed services, then we would love to hear from you.

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