Contaminated land

Land is usually contaminated through a previous or existing industrial use. Examples of such uses are:

  • Waste disposal (licensed and unlicensed)
  • Dockyards
  • Rail sidings
  • Gas works
  • Power generation
  • Metal finishing/smelting
  • Chemical works
  • Waste incineration
  • Cement manufacture
  • Asbestos manufacture
  • Petrochemical installations
  • Petroleum Spirit storage
  • Diesel storage tanks
  • Scrap metal/ vehicle dismantling
  • Paper manufacturing
  • Printing
  • Agricultural activities

The role of the council in contaminated land

Under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 the statutory definition of contaminated land is:
' 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 -

  • Significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or
  • Pollution of controlled waters is being, or is likely to be, caused.'
  • Statutory guidance has been issued concerning this definition (DEFRA Circular 01/2006).

The role of East Cambridgeshire District Council, as a regulator, under Part IIA is to:

  • Inspect its district to identify any contaminated land
  • Establish responsibilities for remediation of the land
  • Ensure that appropriate remediation takes place
  • Through agreement
  • By serving a remediation notice
  • If necessary, by the council undertaking the remedial work
  • If necessary through other powers
  • Keep a public register detailing the regulatory action, which has been under taken if a site is declared as contaminated land.

Contaminants from the soil, such as heavy metals, hydrocarbons etc., may enter our bodies and present risks, through:

  • Inhalation of soil dust
  • Skin contact with the soil
  • Inhalation of vapours
  • Eating contaminated soil (babies and small children)
  • Eating vegetables grown in contaminated soil
  • Drinking contaminated water (usually private water supplies)

The council has a range of responsibilities with respect to contaminated land. Firstly, the council will regulate potentially contaminated sites through the planning process. The council would then attach conditions to the planning permissions of sites which are potentially contaminated. The majority of the contaminated sites are dealt with in this manner.

However, the council also has statutory responsibilities to review the potentially contaminated sites in their district and prioritise them in terms of what risk to human health and possibly controlled waters they are currently posing. From the outcome of this, the council will pursue existing sites, according to this prioritisation, and encourage (or enforce, if necessary) clean-up works of that particular site.

The former gas works site at Littleport is the councils current top priority and the problems we are being presented with at this site are widely known, due to the national media coverage of the site. However, the councils structured approach to the site should be the same as a smaller site, because the legal framework is part of the legislation which governs the whole process. Although, as the contaminated land sector is quite new, the social, political and indirect health impacts (such as stress) are only becoming apparent due to our site at Littleport and a few others around the country.

The council holds a public register for all the contaminated sites which can be viewed, free of charge, at the council offices.

The councils' current Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy is included below:

Can contaminated land cause other problems besides health risks?

Yes, there are a number of other potential impacts including:

  • Pollution of water supplies and rivers
  • Damage to building foundations through chemical attack
  • Subsidence
  • Odour nuisance
  • Vegetation dieback or growth inhibition
  • Reduction in property value

Who pays to clean up contaminated land?

Under the current government guidance, liability for historic contamination lies with the polluter of the land (Class A Person). If the polluter cannot be found then the liability rests with the owner/occupier (Class B Person). If a Class B person cannot be found the site is declared an 'orphan site' and responsibility then rests with the local authority.

In general, where a site is being re-developed, the developer pays for the remediation of the land.

I think my site may be contaminated. What can I do?

Contact the Contaminated Land Officer in the Domestic Team.

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 re-developed. However, if land is causing an immediate risk then the authority will work with the polluter/landowners to make the land safe.

Report Contaminated Land

If you would like to report a piece of land that you believe to be contaminated, please complete our online report form: