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 Contaminated Land - Frequently Asked Questions

Contaminated Land - Frequently Asked Questions

CONTAMINATED LAND

What is contaminated land?
Contaminated land is any land that may cause significant harm to people, animals, buildings, ecological systems, or cause the pollution of water due to the presence of substances on, in or under the land.  This would include contamination which has migrated onto the land from an external source.

What is the work of the Contaminated Land Officer?
The Contaminated Land Officer is responsible for implementing East Staffordshire Borough Council’s Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy.  As part of this ongoing work, the borough will be inspected and assessed for the presence of contaminated land.

Advice is also given to site developers and the Planning Department on the re-use of brownfield land (land which has had a previous use).  Where further investigation and remediation works are required, it is the Contaminated Land Officer who ensures that this is done in an appropriate and effective manner.

An Environmental Search facility is also available.

How can I check whether land is likely to be contaminated?
If the land has been used for an industrial activity or used for the disposal of waste then contamination may be present. The degree of contamination present will depend on many factors such as the type of industry. To assess the level of actual contamination it would be necessary to carryout a desk study and site investigation.

What if contaminated land is found?
In many instances contamination on land will only pose a risk if a receptor, such as a person, is exposed to the land. This typically happens when brownfield land is redeveloped. However, if land is causing an immediate risk then the authority will work with the landowners to make the land safe

I am concerned that my home may be affected by land contamination. Can you carry out tests?
All land in the borough will be ultimately assessed to identify potentially contaminated land, but this will take many years to complete this task. If there is a suspicion of a significant problem, then we may consider carrying out an investigation and testing the land. Please contact us if you have concerns.

Where can I get advice on how to carry out a site investigation?
It is becoming more common for a site investigation to be necessary when brownfield land is redeveloped.  A checklist to assist in the process of carrying out site investigations and subsequent reporting is available elsewhere on this site.

Can I do the site investigation myself?
Generally site investigations are carried out in several stages which include a desk study, followed by intrusive investigation, comprising of trial pits and boreholes, analysis of soils and analysis of groundwater, assessment of risks and formulation of a remediation strategy.

Much of the work is very specialist and you will need the assistance of a specialist contractor. However, your knowledge of the history of the land may help the contractor carry out the site investigation.


ENVIRONMENTAL SEARCHES

How can I find out if land is potentially contaminated?
You can write and request for a site search to be undertaken by the Council’s Environmental Health Department.  The fee for this service is currently £143.00 (inc VAT) for each site (charge correct as of 2011/12).  A cheque made payable to East Staffordshire Borough Council must accompany each enquiry.  Alternatively, a card payment over the telephone can be taken, but contact the Pollution Team first to discuss your requirements.

Alternatively, various other companies can also provide a similar service.

What do I get as part of part of the service?
The search includes details of any historical land uses identified by the department, pertinent details of relevant site investigations, and details of other environmental characteristics (for example geology, current and closed landfill sites, in filled areas, authorised industrial processes) that may impact upon the site.

Note that the typical search radius is up to 250m from a specific site.  A report will be provided that includes colour maps and data as requested.  If you have specific requirements, these should be stated in your request, and we will do our best to accommodate them where possible.

Why should I carry out an Environmental Search?
Access to public information has become important when making informed decisions about buying, selling, and developing property. Although it has been possible for some time for individuals to view public records for any environmental information, this process is time consuming and in many cases difficult.

ESBC
use a geographical information system (GIS) to store environmental information. This allows the searches to be tailored to the individual property.  ESBC strives to ensure any data it holds is accurate and up to date.

How long will it take to carry out the search?
Our target response time is 10 working days, following receipt of payment.  In most cases, processing your request and despatching your report is likely to be much quicker.

My search didn’t reveal any contamination. Should I still be concerned?
If the search report does not confirm the potential for contamination to be present, then this should not be taken to categorically mean that the site is free from contamination.

Sometimes a complete history of a site and its surroundings is not available due to gaps in data or maps we hold (for example before 1974 there was no legal requirement to keep records of what was buried at landfill sites, although we may have an indication).  Therefore, enquirers should be aware that other unrecorded activities may have occurred on or near the site.

Other useful sources of information include the library service, county archives and the Internet.  In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to employ a consultant to carry out a desktop study of the site and provide expert advice.

My search states that contamination may be present.  What can I do now?
If another company has provided your environmental search, then it may be worth contacting us to see whether or not we can provide any additional information on the site in question.

If the potential for contamination remains, then you will have to consider that this may impact on the value of the property and may discourage future buyers.  It may be useful to do some research into the possible costs associated with the potential liability. 

Alternatively, environmental liability insurance can be useful in providing for the costs of clean-up should it be necessary in the future.  Products of this nature are available from various insurers.


PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT

When would the Council put a planning condition on a site?
The Council may attach a planning condition where a site has a known history of potentially contaminative uses, or where the site history is unknown but it is suspected that contamination may be present.  Note that contamination can be present in surface or ground waters as well as soils.  Additionally, ground gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide) may need to be considered.

How can I find out if land is potentially contaminated?
You can write and request for a site search to be undertaken by the Council’s Environmental Health Department (more details on this can be found in the section relating to environmental searches). Alternatively, various other companies can also provide a similar service.  If this question arises from a planning condition relating to contamination, it is likely that a more in-depth investigation will be required, and in these cases it is recommended that an environmental consultant be employed to carry out these studies and provide expert advice.

Please note: Sitecheck reports and similar (such as Homecheck and Groundsure residential searches), do not satisfy the needs of CLR 11, Model Procedures for the Management of Land Contamination for the production of a Phase I Desktop Survey Report.  Sitecheck (and similar) are conveyancing reports for purchasing property and are not designed for use as part of the process of developing a site under the needs of PPS23.  The use of such reports will be dismissed as being unsuitable and will not allow further discharge of land contamination conditions without further works being undertaken.  If in you are in any doubt about the work needed or are unsure please ask the LPA or Environmental Health Pollution Team what is needed before purchasing your report.

Will the Council recommend a consultant?
No. However, you can refer to the Yellow Pages and professional institutions for advice.

What will happen if I do not submit a desktop study with my planning application?
If you do not submit a detailed desktop study with your planning application and your planning consent is granted, it is likely that a planning condition will be attached requiring you to submit these details before you commence development of the site. The condition will not be discharged until the planning authority is satisfied with the information provided. In certain circumstances the Council may be unable to grant permission until a satisfactory site investigation has been carried out.

Who will the Planning Authority consult with when I submit my planning application?
The Planning Authority will consult various statutory bodies including the Environment Agency (EA) and other departments within the Council including the Environmental Health Department. Other consulters may include Natural England (formerly English Nature), English Heritage and the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) at Staffordshire County Council in accordance with Planning Policy Guidance 16 (PPG 16) Archaeology and Planning, to protect the historic environment. They may also refer to PPG 9 – Nature Conservation and PPG 15 – Planning and Historic Environment.

When do the Environment Agency get involved in the planning process in relation to contaminated land?
The Planning Department will consult the EA on matters for which the agency has a regulatory responsibility such as:

  • Where pollution of surface or groundwater is involved.
  • Where the water environment is at risk of pollution. 
  • Where an application is within a flood-plain area.
  • Where the development is on a closed landfill or within 250 metres of a closed or active landfill.

I have some land to develop but am unsure of its history does that mean it is clean?
Just because a field looks green and lush it does not mean that there is no contamination at the site. It is always advisable that checks are made to ensure the state of the land.  It should also be noted that when property is built on land, this would add a receptor to the site which means that the importance of ensuring the land is free from contamination is greater.

What if I decide not to do a site survey or remediate a site sufficiently as a part of a planning permission?
Planning conditions relating to contaminated land will not be discharged without validation of the works carried out.  This requires the submission of these relevant documents to your Planning Officer as normal.  These reports are then reviewed by us, and recommendations made to the Planning Delivery team as appropriate.  These comments may require further works or investigations to be undertaken.  If sufficient work and validation has been carried out, then we will recommend the conditions relating to contaminated land are discharged.  Occupation/use of the development cannot proceed until planning conditions have been fulfilled therefore the risk from contamination must be seriously considered.

Even if there no specific planning conditions relating to the investigation and remediation of contamination, it remains the responsibility of the developer to ensure the land is suitable for its proposed use.

If land is found to be contaminated after development the Council has powers under the Contaminated Land Regulations to take action and investigate the land.  If the site is now inhabited it may mean severe disruption to the current occupiers.  There is also the possibility that legal action may be taken to ensure that land is sufficiently remediated.  The legislation also allows the recovery of the total costs of this from the original polluter, developer or landowner (dependent on the specific circumstances).

Is the Planning Process the only way that a contaminated site will be dealt with?
No, although this process is currently the way most developers become aware of any potential issues.  The development stage is usually the best time to investigate a site as it is usually clear from buildings and inhabitants.  The alternative is the use of the Contaminated Land Regulations as outlined above, which could then result in a legal requirement to carry out such works.

Will the Council decide on the action to be taken at a site?
No, it is the responsibility of the developer to ensure that the site is suitable for its proposed use. It is their decision on the scope of any site survey and the nature of any remediation. The Council will review and comment on any report submitted to them but will not sign off or take any responsibility for final remediation.

A site assessment was carried out in the past, can I still use this?
Yes, but it should be noted that there have been recent changes in guidance and the standards applied to the levels of contaminants in the soil, and it would be advisable that consideration is given to the most recent guideline values. The assessment may be used as supporting information but it is strongly advisable to undertake a new assessment using the current guidance.  Activity on the site since any previous assessments may mean these reports are no longer up-to-date.

What would be expected from a site investigation?
It is expected that the relevant guidance and British Standards are followed. A good desktop study should identify the potential source(s) of contamination.  Industry profiles can aid in this and help identify what contaminants may be at site, although the profiles are not an exhaustive list. Further advice can be found on our Advice for Developers webpage (see the left-hand column links).

What are Soil Guideline Values (SGVs)?
Soil Guideline Values mark the concentration of a substance in soil at, or below which human exposure can be considered to represent an acceptable level of risk.

SGVs are generic assessment criteria for certain standard land uses and include a number of precautionary assumptions such as the site conditions and exposure scenarios.  Exceedance of an SGV could indicate that a site specific risk assessment should be undertaken, or that remedial action is needed. This is at the discretion of the Local Authority. It is expected that all site investigations, remediation and validation reports will take account of the currently published SGVs in assessing soil contaminant levels as part of the overall risk assessment.


RADON

What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas.  It is produced by the decay of uranium that is present in all rocks and soils.  In open air, it disperses very quickly, but can become trapped in buildings.  The amount in the air depends on the local geology and the building design, heating, ventilation and use.  The amount, or activity, of radon is measured in becquerels (Bq).

In the UK, half of our radiation dose is from radon alone.  The remainder is mostly from natural sources and includes cosmic rays and food.  However, the dose from radon can vary greatly according to your location. 

What are the health effects?
Long term exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.  The risk of harm is directly related to the level and duration of exposure (the action levels are based on a lifetime exposure). 

Up to 2000 people are expected to die from radon-related lung cancer in the UK each year, but the majority of these will be smokers.  No other health effects have been definitively linked with radon.

What is the radon action level?
The Health Protection Agency recommends that radon levels should be reduced in homes where the average is more than 200 Becquerel's per cubic metre.

This Action Level refers to the annual average concentration in a home, so radon measurements are carried out with two detectors (in a bedroom and living room) over three months, to average out short-term fluctuations. To enable radon initiatives to be targeted effectively, the most radon-prone areas are designated as Affected Areas, defined as those with a greater than 1% chance of a house having radon above the Action Level.

Do I live in a radon affected area?
Staffordshire is not considered to be a high risk area for elevated levels of Radon. However, there may be isolated areas that may have levels which require addressing.

Further information can be found at:

http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/Radiation/UnderstandingRadiation/UnderstandingRadiationTopics/Radon/


Please check the links at the left hand side of the page for further information, or click here to return to the Pollution homepage.

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East Staffordshire Borough Council, Town Hall, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. DE14 2EB.
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