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Pollution control - contaminated land

Some land in this country has been contaminated in the past by industries such as:

  • gasworks
  • mines and quarries
  • tanneries 
  • chemical works 
  • landfills

These are often called brownfield sites.  If you own or occupy contaminated land now, or you did in the past, you may be responsible for cleaning up the pollution.

The problem

Brownfield sites can be a problem for two reasons:

  • there may be harmful substances in, on or under the land
  • substances at the site might cause water pollution or risks to human or ecological health

However, brownfield sites do not generally cause a problem unless they are redeveloped for a different use.

'Pollutant linkage'

Land is only declared 'contaminated' if:

  • it contains a source of pollution - the source and
  • someone (or something) could be affected by the pollutant - the receptor and
  • the pollution can get to the 'receptor' - the pathway

These three elements together are known as the pollutant linkage.

Action required

If you own or occupy contaminated land now, or you did in the past, you may be responsible for cleaning up the pollution. You may still be responsible for cleaning up the pollution after you have sold the land.

Some contamination can be a hazard to current occupants or neighbours and the law says the problem must be put right immediately.

Who pays?

The law follows the 'polluter pays' principle - the person or organisation that caused or permitted the contamination must pay to have it put right. If that person or organisation is not known, then the current owner of the land may become responsible.

Owners and occupiers of domestic properties are not usually liable for these costs.

Re-use of brownfield sites

The approval of an application for redevelopment of these sites will only be granted on condition that the contamination is cleaned up to a standard that makes it suitable for the new use of the land.

You should obtain specialist advice from an environmental consultant or a specialist lawyer before you buy or sell contaminated land. When you buy land, the Environmental Health Department will be able tell you if a site has been declared 'contaminated land'.

What we do about contaminated land

We are responsible for enforcing the 'contaminated land' legislation. We:

  • publish a Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy, which says how we will find contaminated sites in our District (available below)
  • carry out inspections of land that may be contaminated
  • find out who is responsible for putting right the contamination and discuss the problem with them
  • formally declare land contaminated
  • agree the necessary action and makes sure it is done
  • keep a Public Register of contaminated land sites, the action that was required to put the problem right, and any legal action that has been taken.

In some cases the Environment Agency may take over the regulation of a site from us, once it has been declared 'contaminated land'.

Contaminated land search / information service

There is provision within the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 for the Council to charge for the supply of environmental information that is not stored on the public register. A service charge for gathering this information is required and the Council aim to provide a response within 5 working days. We currently offer one standard search type suitable for conveyancing (solicitors and householders), developers and consultants.

This search will outline South Derbyshire District Councilís position with regard to Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the known environmental setting and reveal relevant details under SDDC Inspection Strategy including, any past industrial land uses, pollution incidents / records of contamination, past site investigations / remediation, and any other concerns regarding ground conditions on and adjacent to the property / site.

The charge for this search is £50.00

Contact details

South Derbyshire District Council
Environmental Services
Civic Offices
Civic Way
DE11 0AH

Tel: 01283 595945
Fax: 01283 595855
Online: contact form

Page ref: LGSL 418

Related documents

The following documents are in Portable Document Format (PDF). You can download software to view PDF documents for free from the Adobe website (opens in a new window)