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Conveyancing Hazards: Contaminated Land.

View profile for Paul Hajek
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The Environmental Protection Act states that the responsibility for cleaning up contaminated land is generally the person who caused the contamination.

But in many cases it may be impossible to identify the individuals or companies involved.

So, if the person responsible cannot be identified then the responsibility will fall to the current owner or occupier of the land.

A recent report released by SearchFlow an electronic conveyancing search provider stated that approximately 3 per cent of UK properties may have contaminated land issues?

The SearchFlow research highlighted that up to 768,000 homes could be affected by contaminated land. And, that equates to a cost of £250,000 per acre which could leave the average home owner facing a clean up bill of around £15,000.00.

What is contaminated land?

Contaminated land refers to land that contains a substance or substances that are either potentially hazardous or actually hazardous to the environment or to health.

The main causes of contaminated land In the UK stems from a long history of industrial use of land, such as mining, waste disposal or chemical and oil spills.

Contamination does not necessarily mean that the land was used for industrial purposes as it can also occur naturally, or as a result of agricultural use or simply because of the geology of the area.

Whose responsibility is the clean-up?

The Local Authority relies on a ‘suitable for use’ policy when assessing the risks posed by contamination.

Ultimately, the local authority may require the land owner to clean up the land.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Local Authorities are required to hold a Contaminated Land Register.

This will be revealed in the standard replies to enquires in the Local Search which your Conveyancing Solicitor will carry out for you.

The problem is that at a later stage the Local Authority may add the property to its register, when it updates its register. 

But for around £50.00 you can instruct your Conveyancing Solicitor to carry out an Environmental Search at the beginning of the conveyancing process.

The results of the Environmental Search will establish whether the property you wish to buy carries a risk of contaminated land.

The Environmental Search will carry a simple “Pass” or “Fail” and will also give other environmental data not just contaminated land information.

The percentage of buyers who dismiss the need for an Environmental Search is a significant majority or around 66%.

The downside is that a property which turns out at a later stage to have a contaminated land problem would make it difficult to sell or remortgage.

Properties in certain parts of the country will have potentially more problems than others.

In all cases it would be advisable to discuss an Environmental Search with your Conveyancing Solicitor.


    • Search failed on retirement flatMike Wild
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    Our environmental search failed on a I bedroom retirement flat within a complex of some 38 other flats and cottages, an old petrol station was on part of. The site was built in 1990, what can we do as it is crazy with so many others flats within 3 metres of the flat. The searches keep asking for more information and our local council have given them all they have, this has gone on now for 2 months. I believe it is NOT. Law these searches need to be done and it is upto the individual solicitor, an insurance indemnity was refused and we are still no further forward as of 9th September 2014.

    Who monitors these search companies as they are hold I would suggest lots of purchasers to ransom.

    at our wits ends as to the stupidity of this!