Contaminated land

I am buying a house on a site my solicitor describes as “brown field”. He says that contamination may be an issue. What are the implications of this?

Q: I am buying a house on a site my solicitor describes as “brown field”. He says that contamination may be an issue. What are the implications of this?

A: The contaminated land regime was brought into effect in 2000. It applies to all land, whether residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural. It can affect owners, occupiers, developers, and lenders. The legislation covers existing and future contamination. Land may become contaminated as a result of past or present industrial use. A buyer may inherit a number of legal liabilities on purchasing a property.

Q: Won't the developer have to ensure that the site is free of contamination?

A: Local authorities must inspect and identify seriously contaminated sites. They can issue remediation notices requiring action to remedy contamination, in the absence of a voluntary obligation to do so. Compliance can be expensive and may result in expenditure that could exceed the value of the property. Liability falls primarily on those who “cause or knowingly permit contamination”. If the original polluter of the land cannot be found, the current owner or occupier may be served with a remediation notice requiring the land to be cleaned up. An offence is committed if he fails to comply - and the authorities can do the necessary works themselves and recover the costs from the person served with the notice. Planning permission for development may contain a condition requiring “clean up” works to be carried out.

Q: What should I ask my solicitor to do?

A: Specific inquiries of the seller should be made to ask, for example, if the seller is aware of any potentially contaminative use of the site or previous accidents, or incidents or spillages or whether the site has been used for landfill or waste disposal purposes. A builder may have been required to obtain a site investigation report that should be produced to the buyer's solicitors. Inquiries can be made of statutory and regulatory bodies. The buyer's solicitors should also apply for an Environmental Search. Insurance may be an option but cover is limited. New homes may be sold with a guarantee that includes some cover against problems with contamination.

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