Land Contamination Frequently Asked Questions

Land Contamination Specialist


What do my planning conditions mean?

We at Castledine Environmental understand that the planning conditions imposed by your LPA (Local Planning Authority) can often be seen overly-complex and jargonistic. We can help you with this and discharge the conditions in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Usually the planning conditions will start by asking for a Phase 1 Desk Study, followed by Phase 2 Intrusive Investigation, a Phase 3 Remediation and Verification Plan and a Phase 4 Verification Report. If Phases 1 or 2 conclude that the risk is low or negligible, then the process stops at that point.

Note: Phase 1 Desk Studies can often be confused with various other terminology such as a Land Contamination Survey, Report or Assessment, but they really all mean the same thing – the investigation of possibly contaminated land.

A typical example of a condition relating to contamination attached to a Planning Consent is provided below:

“No development approved by this permission shall be commenced until a scheme for the investigation of any potential land contamination on the site has been submitted to and agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority which shall include details of how any contamination shall be dealt with. The approved scheme shall be implemented in accordance with the agreed details and any remediation work so approved shall be carried out prior to the site first being occupied”.

Why do I need a Phase 1?

Unfortunately, especially in Britain, our industrial heritage is such that building on, or close to contaminated land or brownfield sites is a frequent issue. This means that moving forward with your development, there may be a potential risk to you, any future users of the site and nearby receptors (such as ecological systems). The phased investigatory system seeks to identify and remove any such risks – if they exist – at the earliest opportunity.

What is a Phase 1 Desk Study / Land Contamination Assessment?

This is the first – and often only – stage of an investigation into a potentially contaminated site. It involves a site visit where the we can view the site for any obvious problems or signs of contamination. Following this, a wide range of informational sources will be compiled into a written report and risk assessed. These sources include BGS geological mapping, aerial and historical imagery of the site, nearby potential contaminative industries and uses, any mining legacies in the local area and any waste/landfill legacy, amongst other sources. A preliminary risk assessment and conceptual site model will be then be formed, which indicates whether the investigation stages of the development should continue, or the development itself can proceed.

What is contamination?

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Amended by the Environment Act of 1995) introduced a legal definition to ‘contaminated land’, with Section 78A stating: “Contaminated land is any land 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 likely to be, caused.”

Where has it come from?

Contamination can arise from a huge range of possible sources. It could be natural in origin such as high levels of arsenic present in the London Clay Formation; or it could be human in origin and arise from nearby industry. Human originating contamination is generally the more likely.

What happens if my land is contaminated?

If a Phase 1 Desk Study has indicated that your site is potentially contaminated then the phased process may move onto a Phase 2/Stage 2 Intrusive Survey (see Phase 2 overview). Should it be tenable, then the process may move straight to Phase 3. This is the planning stage of any remedial actions that can be taken to mitigate any risks from potential contaminants on site (see Phase 3 overview).

What is a Phase 2 Intrusive Survey?

A Phase 2 Intrusive Investigation may be called a number of differing terms, but they all mean generally the same thing - the investigation of contamination in-situ and on site. This may involve the excavating of trial pits/holes by hand or mechanical excavators, or the forming of boreholes using various different types of drilling rigs. Environmental samples will then be taken from these and sent off to an MCERTS or UKAS accredited laboratory. We will always encourage the developer to utilise their own workforce and machinery, often within the development stages as a method of expediency and reducing costs.

What does remediation of site mean/entail?

Often called contaminated land management and site remediation or reclamation of contaminated land, this is the process and methods with which the contaminants can be removed. There are various ways of doing this. More generally called remediation this can involve processes as simple as encapsulating any contaminants under hard-standing; removing the contaminants off-site to an accredited waste management company; through to in-situ remediation such as biological, chemical, physical and thermal processes to treat any contaminants in place. At Castledine Environmental we will always endeavour to utilise the best and most cost-effective method for each and every site.

When can my development start?

Should the Phase 1 Desk Study indicate a low likelihood of contamination on your site then this is often the only stage of an investigation into a development site. Once this has been agreed upon with your Local Planning Authority, your development can begin.

Should the Phase 1 indicate a higher level of risk and likelihood of contamination on your site, then this may progress the investigation to either a Phase 2 Intrusive Ground Investigation or a Phase 3 Remediation Strategy and Verification Plan. Once the Phase 2 has been completed along with the Phase 3, or the Phase 3 recommendations have been agreed upon with your Local Planning Authority, then your development can begin. The Phase 3 recommendations will be then undertaken as part development stages. Following this, a Phase 4 Verification report will be formed. This provides the proof to your Local Authority that the recommendations have been carried out, and any potential risks to receptors (you, plants, nearby watercourses etc) have been eliminated. Once the Local Authority have received and agreed upon this report, your development can begin or continue.

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