Developers and others are being encouraged to build on “brownfield” sites. This seems an admirable objective since it reuses previously used land, often for industrial premises or buildings that are no longer required.
But problems can arise from the previous activities carried on at a site, particularly given that in the past, industrial processes may have used chemicals, or produced waste, that has contaminated the land. If housing or schools are planned, for example, the developer must ensure that the ground, surface, and groundwater are decontaminated before development can proceed. If there is anything on the land that could harm protected species, it must be made harmless. For a Land Remediation Service, go to Soilfix who supply a Land Remediation Service.
The government’s stance is that it’s not only former factories, mines, steelworks, refineries, and landfills likely to have caused contamination – any industrial process could have done so. There is a category of “special sites” that require technical guidance to be followed, and it’s a pretty diverse list, ranging from previous oil refineries to any land formerly owned by the Ministry of Defence. Once the council categorises a location as a particular site, it’s regulated by the Environment Agency.
It isn’t only when land is being developed that it may be categorised as contaminated and requiring land remediation. If the site is polluted, when the ground is sold, let, or transferred, the council inspects the land, or if certain types of licence are applied for, the local council may decide to investigate.
The council or the Environment Agency will decide who should clean up the site and how it should be cleaned. However, with appropriate management, this process need not be controversial and can be agreed upon amicably with the relevant authority early in any development process.