Contaminated land issues and planning

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) encourages the re-use of existing resources, including the conversion of existing buildings and the effective re-use of land that has been previously developed (brownfield land) it also promotes consideration of development on land of lesser environmental value. All of these aspects support the redevelopment of potentially contaminated sites.

Development of a site with land contamination issues is an ideal way to secure an improvement in the environment providing that it results in a safe development that creates no unacceptable risks to human health or the environment. The NPPF states that the purpose of the planning system is to achieve sustainable development which is viable and deliverable.

Land contamination is a material planning consideration. Please note that where a site is affected by land contamination, the responsibility for securing a safe development rests with the developer and/or landowner.

Certain types of development are particularly sensitive to land contamination, for example, housing, schools, allotments and children's play areas. In developing a site new receptors may be introduced that weren’t exposed to the contamination before, for example, a housing development on a derelict petrol station. In this instance, people could be exposed to contamination whilst in their gardens or through eating home-grown vegetables if the correct assessment and remediation had not been carried out.

Or it may be that the development will create new pathways for the contamination to become available to receptors, for example, a building on a former landfill site. In this example the building may lead to a build up of gases that previously dispersed into the atmosphere.

It is important that all developers have a comprehensive understanding of the history of a site; not just knowledge of the current or immediately previous use in the case of a derelict site. This information will assist both the developer and us in assessing the likelihood of risks from potential land contamination and ultimately save costs.

Identification of problems at an early stage can assist in the processing of planning applications and accelerate the development of sites. Since remediation of land contamination can incur significant costs it is important that the risks are identified and understood by both the developer and ourselves before a planning decision is taken.

It is strongly recommended that pre-application advice is sought from ourselves regarding potential contamination issues. Where development is proposed on a site known to be contaminated, or has the potential to be contaminated as a result of it's historical use, an initial risk assessment will be required.

A Guide for Developers of Potentially Contaminated Sites (PDF: 684KB/ 17pages) includes more details of the assessment process involved.

Last updated: Wednesday, 5 April, 2023.