Conveyancing and contaminated land

Islington Mill developmentThe introduction of legislation known as 'part 2A' of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 has resulted in an increased awareness amongst mortgage lenders regarding the possible financial liabilities associated with contaminated land. Land searches can help identify whether or not the land or property already is, or may be in the future, legally determined as contaminated land by the council under part 2A. As a result, it has become common for solicitors and conveyancers to request an environmental search when dealing with land or property transactions.

If, for example, a search reveals the presence of past industrial or landfill activity on the land about to be purchased, or in the vicinity of that land, then it is possible that a source of contamination may be present in the land and may be hazardous to human health and/or the environment.

It is possible that as an owner or occupier of land or property legally determined by the council as contaminated land, could result in the owner or occupier being liable for clean-up costs. There are however many liability exclusions for owners and occupiers who are not responsible for the pollution. Please note that the local authority has the responsibility for making decisions about what may constitute contaminated land, not the company or individual undertaking the environmental search.

Many properties and land within Salford which have had some former use that could have left land contamination, are still bought and sold. The final decision to purchase rests with the potential buyer and mortgage lender who need to be satisfied with the level of risk associated with the transaction.

A 'pass' certificate issued by an environmental search company is not a guarantee that the land or property will not meet the statutory definition of contaminated land. It is only a statement from the company undertaking the search that a review of the data examined did not identify a significant potential concern. Conversely, a 'fail' environmental search does not prove that there actually is a problem.

Search companies may offer to ask the local authority for information which may help reduce concerns and allow a pass certificate to be issued. Information could include more detail about the potential contamination sources or evidence that a site investigation or site remediation has taken place. Where further information is not available the search company may offer to undertake a detailed investigation at the site in order to confirm the presence or absence of significant contamination.

Until local authorities complete their inspections, they will not be in a position to inform you if your land or property could be legally determined as contaminated land. Also the council are unable to provide you with interpretation of the factual information discovered during environmental searches and cannot therefore provide you with a pass or a fail certificate.

Local authorities may charge for providing certain information so please check this directly with the relevant council departments.

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