Contaminated land overview

Contaminated land

The contaminated land regime was introduced by the government to ensure local authorities inspect their boroughs to identify and address potential land contamination issues. Contaminated land is land polluted by substances that are potentially harmful to human health and the wider environment.

In the UK we have a long and diverse industrial heritage and it is estimated that there are approximately 325,000 potentially contaminated sites within the UK.

Land contamination can occur through a number of ways. These can include previous industrial activities (e.g. former gas works, tanneries and factories), waste disposal (e.g. historical landfills) or accidental release of chemicals (e.g. leaking oil tanks). In some cases there are naturally occurring high levels of chemicals, contaminating land.

Many of the potentially contaminative industries may have since vanished from our landscape many years ago but they may have contaminated the ground they once operated on, as many years ago we did not have as stringent environmental legislation as we do now.

Since the early 2000s, the council have been identifying and investigating such lands within the borough suspected of being contaminated and in accordance with our statutory duties under the requirements of section 78B(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

What is contaminated land?

In law 'contaminated land' has a very specific meaning; it is not the same as the meaning applied in everyday usage. Land is contaminated for the purpose of the legislation only where a pollutant linkage exists and there is significant harm or possibility of significant harm to people or protected species or significant pollution or possibility of significant pollution of surface waters or groundwater.

A pollutant linkage

A pollutant linkage is a positive relationship between:

  • contaminant, a substance which is in, on or under land and which has the potential to cause harm or to cause pollution of ground waters
  • a pathway and one or more routes by which a receptor is being (or could be) exposed to or affected by a contaminant
  • a receptor, a living organism, a group of living organisms, an ecological system or a piece of property which is being (or could be) harmed by a contaminant; or controlled waters which are being (or could be) polluted by a contaminant.

Within the context of the current or likely use of the land consistent with its current planning permission and any informal recreational use of that land.

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