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Contaminated Land - Why are environmental searches important?

Contaminated Land - Why are environmental searches important? - 27/11/2012

Why are environmental searches important?

Please note that the following information is for guidance purposes only. It is not intended to be a comprehensive interpretation of the effects of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or any amendment or enactment thereof. If you do have any particular concerns you should seek specialist advice.


Flooding is becoming more and more of a problem throughout the country and a detailed flood search is always recommended. The cost of a flood search is less than £20 and it will provide valuable information to a buyer from the outset, before he enters into a binding contract for the sale and purchase.

For further information on flooding, visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk

Contaminated land

There are more than 400,000 potentially contaminated sites in England and Wales. “Contaminated Land” means, land that has been contaminated with harmful substances such as Radon gas, radioactivity, toxic waste, to name but a few. For example, landfill sites, sites which have been used for industrial use, waste dumps and even land which is subject to flooding and subsidence might be, or become contaminated. Any landfill site could be partially unstable and produce harmful gases. It is only in recent years that legislation has been passed to control the dumping of waste and toxic substances. No such control existed before this.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 imposes a statutory duty upon local authorities to inspect and identify contaminated land, and to implement remediation measures wherever any such contamination is discovered.

Why should I be concerned?
If the local authority becomes aware that any land or property is contaminated, it can issue a Remediation Notice on the landowner and the cost of “cleaning up” could fall on you as the current owner of your property. It could also adversely affect the value of your property. Failure to comply with a Remediation Notice is a criminal offence. You should also be aware that the costs of “cleaning up” can result in expenditure exceeding the value of your property.

Why am I responsible for cleaning up?
Under the legislation any person who caused or willingly permitted contaminative substances to be in, on or under the land is responsible and the local authority has the power to enforce the law. However, if the person who actually committed the offence cannot be found (after reasonable enquiry) then the owner or occupier for the time being of the land or property can be held responsible.

Local authorities are also now required to keep a register of contaminated land. The concept is, however, in its infancy, and such registers are by no means complete, nor is it likely to be for some years to come. This means that the local authority search which we will carry out on your behalf at the start of your purchase transaction will be incomplete in this regard.

We strongly advise all of our clients to consider an environmental search, which can be carried out at reasonable cost. We will arrange this for you when buying residential or commercial property. The search would be done by a specialist company that has access to records dating back hundreds of years. It will reveal the likelihood of flooding in the area and of subsidence and ground heave for example. It will not however reveal the existence of illegal tipping of toxins and poisonous substances.

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Would you like help or advice? Contact Iain Mason:01793 538198 | iain.mason@hoffmanbriggs.co.uk