Land affected by contamination
A guide for developers
This guidance explains what information should be submitted with a planning application to redevelop, or significantly change the use of land or buildings which could potentially be contaminated.
This is likely to arise from a previous use of a site, or an adjacent site, due to a previous industrial or waste disposal activity.
Contamination does not necessarily present an unacceptable risk. However, risk arises when a pathway is created between a contaminant and a vulnerable receptor. The contaminant may be chemical, biological, radioactive or physical. Development can create risk by introducing new pathways and also by introducing new receptors – for example where houses are built near the site of a former landfill site producing methane.
Where development introduces a particularly sensitive use, such as houses with gardens, schools, or allotments, the possibility of contamination should always be considered.
Examples of potentially contaminating uses:
- metal processing and finishing
- oil and petroleum storage
- manufacture of chemicals including paints and fertilisers
- timber treatment
- landfill sites
- scrap yards
- railway or road haulage depots
The presence of contamination is a material consideration when considering planning applications. Development must not create or allow the continuation of unacceptable risk. The standard of remediation to be achieved is the removal of unacceptable risk, making the site suitable for its new use and ensuring that it does not cause pollution of the wider environment.
An assessment of risk should always be carried out by the developer, before the planning application is submitted.
This guide briefly sets out the stages for assessing risk, proposing a remediation strategy, and producing evidence that the work has been carried out satisfactorily.
Where land is affected, or likely to be affected by contamination, developers should submit a preliminary risk assessment. This will include desk-based research, site reconnaissance and hazard identification.
A preliminary risk assessment is the minimum requirement. It is advisable for the developer to liaise with the council before submitting a planning application in order to discuss specific site details.
Where significant contamination is known or suspected, additional research and risk assessment may be needed before an application can be determined. If circumstances indicate possible unacceptable risk, then planning permission may be refused. All aspects of investigations into possible land contamination should follow the guidelines within Land contamination risk management (LCRM), available on GOV.UK.
Use of planning conditions
There will be circumstances in which the past use of the land or buildings suggests the possibility of contamination. Examples might include buildings previously used for light industrial purposes or for agricultural use. In such cases the council may impose a condition on the planning permission. Such a condition would ensure that the site is investigated and any necessary remediation is carried out before development takes place.
Conditions may also be used where the council is satisfied that the risks are understood and that there is a remediation option, but where not all the details have been resolved.
The planning process sets a minimum standard for cleaning land to ensure the property cannot be classed as contaminated under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For details on Part IIA, please contact the appropriate Contaminated Land Officer.
Building regulations approval may also be required and the applicant must ensure that the Building Control Officer is aware of contamination issues and that the appropriate requirements are met.
Stages of assessing contaminated land
Stage 1 – Planning and Desk Study
All aspects of investigations should follow the guidelines within Land contamination risk management (LCRM).
Phase 1a (preliminary risk assessment) – Desk-based research, site reconnaissance, hazard identification
- Research site history to establish if previous uses could lead to contamination.
- Obtain information about previous uses and potential contaminants to highlight which areas of the site could be affected (including adjoining land where such risks exist). Ask Environmental Services for directions to any further land contamination guidance that the council may have.
- Identify who and what is at risk (for example, future occupants, buildings and environment) and the potential pathways for those risks – known as the Conceptual Site Model.
- Provide a report of the hazard identification to the Planning Officer when submitting the application. If required, discuss findings with relevant authorities, for example, Borough Council and Environment Agency.
- The Planning Authority will then decide if the submitted report is to be accepted and whether there is a need to proceed to the next stage.
Phase 1b – Further desk-based research, exploratory site investigation, hazard assessment
- Using information from above, the applicant will need to undertake initial intrusive investigation. Note that monitoring for substances such as ground gas can take several months.
- Review Conceptual Site Model.
- Decide which risk assessment models are appropriate or need to be developed. Discuss and agree with the Planning Authority. Submit a report of the hazard assessment to Planning Services. If required, discuss findings with the Borough Council and the Environment Agency.
- Planning Services will decide if the submitted report is to be approved and if there is a need to proceed to the next stage.
Stage 2 – Risk Estimation and Assessment
Phase 2a – Intrusive investigations
- The applicant will now need to determine what detailed intrusive work is required, and what monitoring/sampling techniques need to be used.
- Identify how many samples will be needed for confidence and take guidance from a laboratory providing appropriate Accreditation Service accredited analysis. Produce a methodology and timetable for carrying out the work. Carry out intrusive investigations.
- Use the estimation to inform a risk assessment and, if required, discuss findings with the Borough Council and the Environment Agency.
Phase 2b – Risk assessment
- Assess the risks by applying appropriate human health (following the CLEA methodology) and nonhuman health assessment criteria, as agreed during Phase 1b. Refer to Land contamination risk management (LCRM).
- Identify remediation options and develop a Remediation Strategy including a timetable.
- Submit a report on the risk estimation and assessment to Planning Services. Agree the Remediation Strategy and inform all relevant interested parties (Planning, Environmental Health, Environment Agency, Building Control/National House Building Council) and identify single point of contact at Borough Council for follow-up issues.
- Planning Services to decide if the submitted report is to be approved.
- After approval, proceed to next stage if necessary.
Stage 3 – Remedial action
- Implement Remediation Strategy with regular updates to single point of contact including unforeseen work.
- Where appropriate, seek site visits from the Borough Council’s staff.
Stage 4 – Closure report
- Upon completion, produce a concise, documented evidence report of investigations, remedial action and validation undertaken to enable Planning Services to discharge any planning conditions.
- Compliance with the building regulations is a separate issue and there should be close discussion in appropriate cases with the council’s Building Control Service or with the National House Building Council.
- Council staff will use the documented evidence referred to in Stage 4 to reply to all enquiries on a Land Charges Search.
Planning Policy Statement 23: Planning and Pollution Control.
Telephone: 01892 526121
Environmental Protection Team
Telephone: 01892 554235
Telephone: 08708 506506
Further information about contaminated land investigation and reporting is available on our contaminated land page.