Identifying Contaminated Land

How can I find out if my home or the home I am buying is on contaminated land?

Your solicitor can conduct an environmental search for you. (The results of these searches should be treated with caution as not all contaminated land has been identified and the databases on which the searches are based are not always accurate).

You can contact the Domestic Team at East Cambridgeshire District Council to discuss the site.
Your consultant can carry out a desktop study and an intrusive investigation of the site if necessary.

Why are solicitors undertaking environmental searches when acting on behalf house buyers/sellers?

In 2001 the Law Society issued a legal warning card to all solicitors with regard to Part IIA, the main points of the card are listed below:

'In purchases, mortgages and leases, solicitors should:

  • Advise the client of potential liabilities associated with contaminated land. Generally clients should be advised of the possibility and consequences of acquiring interests in contaminated land and the steps that can be taken to assess the risks.
  • Make specific enquiries of the seller in all commercial cases, and if contamination is considered likely to be a risk in residential cases, (e.g. redevelopment of brown field land):
  • Make enquiries of statutory and regulatory bodies.
  • Undertake independent site history investigation, e.g. obtaining site report from a commercial company. In commercial cases, if there is a likelihood that the site is contaminated:
  • Advise independent full site investigation.
  • Consider use of contractual protections and the use of exclusion tests. This may involve specific disclosure of known defects, possibly coupled with price reduction, requirements on seller to remedy before completion, and in complex cases the use of warranties and indemnities. Unresolved problems, consider
  • Advising withdrawal, and noting advice;
  • Advising insurance (increasingly obtainable for costs of remediation of undetected contamination and any shortfall in value because of undisclosed problems).'

How do I carry out the site investigation and could I do the site investigation myself?

Generally, site investigations are carried out using a tiered approach this can include a desk study, followed by intrusive investigation if necessary. Intrusive investigations consist, typically, of trial pits and boreholes to collect soil and groundwater samples, these are analysed for toxic chemicals. A risk assessment is produced based on the sample results and a remediation strategy is formulated, if necessary.

Much of the work is very specialist and you will almost certainly need the assistance of a specialist contractor. However, your knowledge of the history of the land will help the contractor carry out the site investigation.