In the UK there is a substantial legacy of chemical contamination in soil, much of it caused by industrial and domestic pollution. It is estimated that 300,000 hectares of land in the UK are thought to have been affected to some degree by contamination left by industrial activity. Land contamination can pose a threat to the environment and the health of humans, animals and plants.
In the 1750s, the industrial revolution saw great urban expansion and growth of factory manufacturing. In this area industries such as town gas production, tanning, textiles and printing produced toxic by-products and wastes. In more recent times a variety of other industries and activities have also contributed to land contamination, these include oil and petrol use, manufacturing, landfilling, use of asbestos etc.
Most soils have some small presence of contaminants (e.g. caused by natural geology and diffuse pollution) but levels of risk are usually very low. However, some land has the potential to pose unacceptable levels of risk to human health or the environment, including water pollution, in particular some former industrial sites and landfills. Land is only considered to be “contaminated land” in the legal sense if it poses an unacceptable risk.
Definition of contaminated land
Section 57 of the Environment Act 1995 created Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (“Part 2A”) which establishes a legal framework for dealing with contaminated land in England.
Section 78A(2) of the 1990 Act defines “contaminated land” as any land which appears to the local authority in whose area it is situated to be in such a condition, by reason of substances in, on or under the land that – (a) significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or (b) significant pollution of controlled waters is being caused, or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused.
Objectives of Government policy
The overarching objectives of the Government’s policy on contaminated land and the Part 2A regime are:
- To identify and remove unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.
- To seek to ensure that contaminated land is made suitable for its current use.
- To ensure that the burdens faced by individuals, companies and society as a whole are proportionate, manageable and compatible with the principles of sustainable development.
The role of the Council
Part 2A requires that local authorities cause their areas to be inspected with a view to identifying contaminated land, and to do this in accordance with current guidance.
Local Authorities have the sole responsibility for determining whether land appears to be contaminated land. Local Authorities are the enforcing authority for all contaminated land except that designated as a Special Site.
Environmental Compliance Officers also seek to address contaminated land as part of the planning process, by advising Planning Officers with regards to ensuring land is made suitable for use when it is redeveloped.
Planning advice for developers
Environmental Compliance Officers are consulted as part of the planning process. The Environmental Compliance Team is routinely consulted on the following:
- proposed developments at sites with a land use history that may have resulted in ground contamination;
- proposed developments with an intended end use that is considered to be particularly sensitive to contamination for example housing, schools, hospitals and children's play areas.
In association with the Environment Agency and the other local authorities in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, the council has jointly published the below advice note called Development on Potentially Contaminated Land and/or for a Sensitive End (see below PDF Document). It summarises responsibilities, contact details and the phased approach to the assessment of the environmental risk when developing on land that may be affected by contamination, or developing for end uses sensitive to contamination.
The Council is mindful of the potential cost implications of a formal land contamination assessment and investigation. Therefore, the Council has prepared a questionnaire to be completed by developers for small (1 or 2 house) housing developments on existing residential or green-field sites (see below PDF document). The information contained in completed questionnaires is then used to determine whether a more formal assessment of land contamination is necessary.
Contaminated Land enquiries
The Environmental Compliance Team regularly receives enquiries as to whether land, or property, is affected by contamination. These enquiries generally come from the following sources:
- House purchasers or vendors;
- Solicitors or Estate Agents acting on behalf of purchasers and vendors;
- Environmental consultants;
- Commercial organisations, purchasing or selling land
In response to these enquiries the Environmental Compliance Team is able to provide, to persons with a specific interest in that property or plot of land, factual information on its land use history.
This information is drawn from a number of sources within the Council’s records and includes:
- Microfiche records of previous planning permissions;
- Archived environmental site investigation reports;
- Historic land use information mapping obtained from the Council’s Geographical Information System (GIS).
Should you wish to make such an enquiry you should provide the following information:
- Address of the property, or land, with a post code and if possible a plan confirming its location;
- The nature of your interest in the land;
- Whether or not there are specific issues that have prompted the enquiry or another indication of type of information that is required
This information or any questions relating to an enquiry of this nature should be made to the Environmental Compliance Team using the below contact details.
Where the time taken to prepare a response to an enquiry exceeds 2 hours, a charge of £32.97 per hour will be applied.
Contaminated Land Strategy
Part 2A requires local authorities to take a strategic approach to carrying out its inspection duty; local authorities are also required to set out its approach as a written strategy.
The main objectives of the strategy is to describe how the Council intends to inspect its area in order to identify contaminated land sites within its district and to demonstrate how it will prioritise those areas for action. A copy of the strategy can be viewed below.
Contaminated Land Register
Section 78R of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires local authorities to maintain a register of contaminated land that holds certain prescribed information.
The regulations specify the information to be included in the register. Therefore the register will include:
- details of remediation notices;
- appeals against any such remediation notices;
- remediation statements or remediation declarations;
- appeals against charging notices;
- designation of any land as a ‘special site’;
- terminating the designation of any land as a special site;
- notifications by persons;
- notifications by owners or occupiers of land;
- convictions for offences.
The register does not include details of historic land use and other records used in the investigation of potentially contaminated land.
The register is held by the Environmental Compliance Team in Regulatory Services whose address is on this page.
You can view the register free of charge below. Requests for copies of documents must be made to Regulatory Services and there is a small charge.
There are a number of websites that contain information which you may find useful.
The Environment Agency's web pages contain information that deals with land contamination; you may also find the 'What's in your backyard' section of the Agency's website particularly useful in finding out about land contamination issues in your area.
Alternatively the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) web pages also contain information regarding Contaminated Land.
The information contained on these webpages has been relocated to the following address: www.gov.uk
Date of last review: 06 January 2017
Please contact the Environmental Compliance Team on
Telephone: 01727 819406
Email at: email@example.com