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Land contamination reports guidance

What is land contamination?

Calderdale is famous for its industrial past, but land that was once put to an industrial use and sometimes neighbouring sites too, may have been contaminated by pollution from that use.

Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 23 (Annex 2, Para. 2.33 and 2.42, available from Communities and Local Government) states that the actual or suspected presence of substances in, on or under the land that may cause risks to people, human activities or the environment is a material planning consideration. It also states that housing development is a 'sensitive end use', to be protected from undue risks of contamination.

Assessing those risks relies on identifying any source-pathway-receptor pollutant linkages:

  • The source is the contamination in, on or under the land.
  • The pathway is the route by which the contamination reaches the receptor.
  • Receptors are living organisms, ecological systems or property that can be harmed.

All three elements must be present for there to be a risk. The risk must be considered to cause significant harm to occur. (For example, certain diseases or damage due to exposure to the contamination) or a significant risk of significant harm to occur.

Planning procedure

An application for new housing or an extension increasing the property footprint on any land (even greenfield or existing housing land) or for conversion of former industrial property for housing must be accompanied by a basic report (called a phase one report) about land contamination. Please note that if a phase one report is required but not submitted an application will not be accepted as properly made and will not be validated. The Council may also attach conditions to any planning consent granted if the phase one report indicates further investigation is required. That will need further detailed investigation by a consultancy. A 'phase one report' consists of:

  • A desktop study (a search of available historical and current records and maps to identify possible sources of contamination).
  • A site walkover survey. (A simple survey of the site as it currently exists. This is to reveal any features such as structures, tanks, pipe-work and so on not shown on other records. These may suggest possible sources of contamination.)
  • A conceptual model using the information gathered to identify possible pollutant linkages.
  • A basic risk assessment of any linkages.

Perhaps land has always been 'greenfield' or used for housing and seemingly presents little by way of risk. However some sources of contamination may not be obvious, for example:

  • A barn intended for conversion that was once used as a fuel or pesticide store.
  • Extension to a dwelling on existing housing land but within 250 metres of a landfill site.
  • New-build next to a factory or former industrial site or petrol station.
  • Dwelling in an existing garden space that was subject to a contaminative use one hundred years ago.

When considering 'pathways' we are often considering geology and watercourses and the ease for contaminants to stay in the land or move through the land many years after the land became contaminated. Such knowledge tends to be specialist in nature.

Consideration of 'risk' is a more specialist area still. Whilst you may be able to collect some of the necessary information about sources and pathways PPS23 requires all reports to be written by a 'competent person' to standards set out in BS 10175:2001.

Unless a desktop study and walkover survey rule out possible sources of contamination it is unlikely that an average member of the public can properly consider potential pathways, or more so the risk of significant harm. They could not, therefore, satisfy the need for a report to be written by a 'competent person'. For such situations a competent person would normally be a chartered member of an appropriate professional body such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, Geological Society of London, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Institution of Environmental Management who has relevant experience of investigating contaminated sites. We strongly advise you obtain three quotes for any work before you buy a service.

Where do I go for information for phase one reports?

Competent persons

Consult the organisations mentioned above. Additionally, consultants who may carry out the above work or check work you have carried out are featured in the Environmental Data Services Consultancy Directory (we suggest you tick boxes 'contaminated land' and 'local government'). Also, persons who can be regarded as competent and will guide you through information you will require are listed at Specialists in Land Condition.

The Environment Agency

The Environment Agency offers a property search service, which can include contaminated land records. Initial enquiries should be directed to their National Customer Care Centre on 08708 500 250. Alternatively, an online service is available via the National Land Information Service and offers a standard list of questions that cover the major functions of the Agency. By using this service, you will receive individual reports delivered directly to you via the Internet, usually within a few minutes.

Local libraries

Can provide information for the desk study, such as historical maps and Kelly's Trade Lists, which can describe the previous use for the land and various environmental receptors such as wildlife.

The Internet

Environmental information can be sourced from the following companies including: Groundsure, Homecheckpro, Sitescope, Envirocheck or from the Environment Agency. Commercially available internet downloads must be supplemented by a walkover survey, conceptual model and a risk assessment.

Guidance on the verification requirements for cover systems

The Council would like to bring this guidance to the attention of consultants responsible for the production of validation or verification reports on land that is being redeveloped.

The guidance is intended to raise the standard of reports submitted to Local Authorities where the reports relate specifically to the validation or verification of cover systems on contaminated land. It could also be relevant in other situations where it is necessary to import materials onto a redevelopment site. Whilst the guidance has been developed for a regional approach, specific consultation with the relevant individual Planning Authorities is always recommended.

In order that the reports you prepare run as smoothly as possible through the planning process we recommend that you endeavour to utilise this guidance as soon as is reasonably possible.

Important note: This simple advice is written in good faith but it cannot be taken to replace legislation and guidance, which is always subject to change. Calderdale Council has taken all reasonable precautions to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publication. However Calderdale Council cannot assume responsibility for any loss or damage caused to person, land or property to persons relying on this information.

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