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Information about contaminated land searches

​Land can be affected by contamination from past uses such as industry, waste disposal or mining. Certain substances may have the potential to harm people, animals, buildings, ecological systems, or cause the pollution of water. The presence of contamination however does not necessarily mean there is a problem and in many cases the land may be suitable for its current use.

Why a search is necessary

Where a property is sold, developed or re-mortgaged the search undertaken now includes questions about past land uses which may be potentially contaminating. Vendors and purchasers can request an environmental search from either an environmental consultant or the local authority. A fee will normally be charged.

Why we charge for this service

Currently our statutory duty only extends to maintaining a public register of contaminated land and identifying potentially contaminated land for inspection. As such there are no resources allocated for this type of service which is why a charge is made.

What the search involves

Searches are designed to identify those sites within a given area that appear to have had past uses which may have led to contamination in, on or under the ground. Typically a radius of 250 metres around a site is searched as this is generally the maximum distance that landfill gas, if present, may migrate. A list of all appropriate historic land use information is given for the area searched. This is tabulated and a map provided.

What the search cannot do

The search cannot tell us whether those sites identified are likely to have any contamination present. Where a site has been inspected by ourselves, details of its status will be given.

Does this information mean my house/premises are on contaminated land?

Unless an owner has investigated the condition of land they own, we do not know what its contamination status is. Sites identified by ourselves for inspection will have their contamination status investigated by the local authority at some point in the future if the owner has not had cause to already. It is difficult to say with any certainty which sites are likely to require remedial work as a result of inspection, however, in some cases occupants may already have noted some of the tell tale signs that the land may be affected. This can include dead and dying vegetation, industrial artefacts appearing when the garden is dug, unexplained residues appearing at the premises etc. It is not always possible to tell visually if the presence of contamination is likely and anyone undertaking an investigation of land condition should employ a properly qualified consultant who is capable of carrying out the most appropriate investigation.

Will the local authority be inspecting the land that my house/premises are on?

We have a duty to inspect our area for land which may be contaminated and establish what the current status is in terms of any effect it may be having on humans, controlled waters, ecosystems, buildings, crops and livestock. As a result there currently exists a list of sites to be inspected, prioritised on risk essentially according to historical use and present use. Sites within the search results may come up for inspection in the near future although there is no timescale for this. When inspected, a desk study may be sufficient to establish that a site has been developed with regard to its historical use and appropriate measures taken to remove any potential risks. Where a site is found to have a reasonable likelihood of contamination and pathways linking it to sensitive receptors, the local authority will work with the owners of the land to establish how this can be addressed.

How you satisfy a purchaser that your land is not affected by contamination

Unless a site has been inspected either by its owner or the local authority, it is not possible to say whether it is affected by contamination, only that potential exists for the presence of contaminants associated with the historic land use. A site that has not been inspected by this authority will not be designated contaminated land i.e. it is not recorded on the council’s public register. In the absence of information other than that provided by searches, the owner/purchaser of the land in question needs to make a judgement based upon the balance of information provided. This should include whether they wish to proceed with a purchase in the knowledge that a site could be inspected in the future and potentially require improvement of the land. For some sites planning department records may show that land has been remediated for a development. Such records may provide additional evidence to satisfy vendor and purchaser alike.

Land that is not included on the local authorities records

There is no guarantee that land we do not hold records for is necessarily contamination free. We can only provide information for sites we hold records on. In either case it is not possible to offer assurances that land is not contaminated. This can only be provided by an environmental consultant further to an investigation done either on behalf of the land owner or the council as part of our inspection programme.

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