Contaminated land

Introduction

Contamination of land or water can occur due to activities carried out upon the land in the past. The presence of industrial sites, mining areas and waste disposal sites have the potential to cause various substances to contaminate the land and groundwater.  These sites can contain heavy metals, hydrocarbons, asbestos, and they can also be sources of ground gases like methane or carbon dioxide.

Where a contamination source exists, it may have the potential to affect receptors (such as humans) if an exposure pathway is also present. Examples of pathways could be through direct exposure to contaminated soil, or by eating produce grown in contaminated soil.  Where a source-pathway-receptor relationship is present, this is referred to as a ‘pollutant linkage’.

How harmful these substances are depends on their length of time within the environment, their ability to migrate through soil and water, their persistence, and their toxicity to humans or the environment.

There is evidence of centuries of industrial activity taking place in Burton upon Trent. Owing to the geological and hydrogeological characteristics of the area, the town became a major centre for the brewing industry within the UK. It is estimated that over 40 breweries were established here by 1880, and by the early 1900's, the brewing industry had become heavily reliant on rail for transporting the goods.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 Part 2a

Contaminated land is statutorily defined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 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:

  1. Significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or
  2. Significant pollution of controlled waters is being, or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused".

The statutory term "contaminated land" is different to the context and scope of land affected by contamination for planning control purposes. The wider term - "land affected by contamination" covers all cases where the actual or suspected presence of substances in, on or under the land may cause risks to people, property, human activities or the environment, regardless of whether or not the land meets the statutory definition.

Local authorities (usually environmental health departments) have a duty to: 

  • inspect their areas and identify contaminated land;
  • establish the remediation required and who should be responsible for it;
  • ensure that remediation takes place, if necessary by serving a remediation notice; and
  • record certain information on a public register.

Public Register - Environmental Protection Act 1990 Part 2a

East Staffordshire Borough Council has no entries on its public register of Contaminated Land. (last updated 26th May 2017).

National Planning Policy Framework

Where development is proposed, the developer is responsible for ensuring that development is safe and suitable for use for the purpose for which it is intended. The developer is thus responsible for determining whether land is suitable for a particular development or can be made so by remedial action. In particular, the developer should carry out an adequate investigation to inform a risk assessment to determine:

  • whether the land in question is already affected by contamination through source - pathway - receptor pollutant linkages and how those linkages are represented in a conceptual model;
  • whether the development proposed will create new linkages, eg new pathways by which existing contaminants might reach existing or proposed receptors and whether it will introduce new vulnerable receptors; and
  • what action is needed to break those linkages and avoid new ones, deal with any unacceptable risks and enable safe development and future occupancy of the site and neighbouring land.

A potential developer will need to satisfy the local authority that unacceptable risk from contamination will be successfully addressed through remediation without undue environmental impact during and following the development. In doing so, a developer should be aware that actions or omissions on his part could lead to liability being incurred e.g. where development fails to address an existing unacceptable risk or creates such a risk by introducing a new receptor or pathway or, when it is implemented, under the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC).Where an agreed remediation scheme includes future monitoring and maintenance schemes, arrangements will need to be made to ensure that any subsequent owner is fully aware of these requirements and assumes ongoing responsibilities that run with the land.

Further information can be found in "The Developers Guide to Land Contamination in Staffordshire - December 2015".

Details on the information to be submitted with a planning application can be found in section L12 ' Land Contamination Assessment' of the Local Planning Validation Criteria.