What Is Contaminated Land?


Industrial decline in the United Kingdom has left many areas of vacant, derelict and under used land which may contain substances in the ground that have the potential to cause harm to human health and the wider environment.

In the United Kingdom there are, primarily, two ways of dealing with land affected by the presence of contamination. Either, through the planning process or through the enforcement of Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990

The Environmental Health Department is responsible for implementing Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and has a dedicated Contaminated Land Officer to undertake this role. Part IIA requires all local authorities to inspect their area for the purpose of identifying contaminated land. In 2001, in accordance with Part IIA, Bassetlaw produced a Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy, this has now been revised Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy 2012.

Part IIA only deals with land which in its current use has the potential to cause 'significant harm' to human health, specified plants and animals, specified buildings and property and the water environment. The legislation also requires that we compile and maintain a Register of Contaminated Land. This register only includes details of land where formal action has been taken - it does not include details of every site in the district.

Development on Land Potentially Affected by Contamination

It is government policy that most land affected by the presence of contamination will be dealt with during the planning process. For planning purposes land contamination has a wider meaning. For any new development the developer is responsible for identifying potential risks to future occupiers of the site.

The actual or possible presence of contamination is a material planning consideration. In many cases it will be an advantage to determine whether there are likely to be any contamination issues on site before submitting an application for planning consent. This may involve a basic historical land use search and site walk over. On large scale developments it could form part of a pre-application enquiry where any necessary investigations can be determined prior to submitting a planning application. On any site where there is the potential for contamination to exist, the Planning Department will consult with the Pollution Control team.

We are mainly concerned with risks to human health and ensuring that the proposed development will be suitable for use.

Although Local Authorities have sole responsibility for determining land as contaminated, the Environment Agency is responsible for the subsequent regulation of certain Part 2A sites. These are designated as ‘special sites’. These sites may be contaminated by virtue of the pollution of controlled waters, or the contamination by certain processes or are sites owned by the Ministry of Defence.

A Guide for Developing Land has been produced by the Nottinghamshire Contaminated Land Sub-Group. The Environment Agency and DEFRA also have useful information on contaminated land.

When a house is bought or sold an environmental search is usually conducted. This may result in some contaminated land issues being flagged up depending on the historic use of the site and surrounding area. The pollution control team hold a large amount of information on various sites with contamination issues around the district, who can provide a report giving an assessment of any concerns, likelihood of being investigated and risks to health. This information can then be used to progress the conveyance of a property, provide information to obtain liability insurance or provide peace of mind.

Further information on this process is available in the Contaminated Land and Your Home Leaflet