Impact on land

Northern Ireland's historic and present day activities have many impacts and pressures on the land. There is therefore a range of policy and legislative measures to protect and manage this resource.

Contaminated land

Northern Ireland, like other parts of the UK, has a legacy of land affected by contamination, often arising from its past industrial use (e.g. shipbuilding, textiles, petrol stations, etc.) but also from natural or diffuse sources. It is not known how much land is contaminated, although NIEA records estimate that there are approximately 12,000 sites across Northern Ireland that have had some form of previous industrial use. Dealing with this legacy will make a significant contribution in the sustainable development and use of our land resource.

The contaminated land regime which is set out in Part 3 of the Waste Management and Contaminated Land Order (Northern Ireland ) 1997, has been enacted but is not yet in force. This regime is similar to Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in England and Scotland since 2000 and in Wales since 2001.

For more information, visit our contaminated land section.

Planning and land contamination

The planning process in Northern Ireland controls the development and use of the land in the public interest. The Planning Authorities within each Local Council are responsible for administering the responsibilities as set out in the the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

The remediation of Contaminated Land through the planning process in Northern Ireland provides the principle mechanism and opportunity to remediate land affected by contamination through its redevelopment and regeneration, hence bringing land back into beneficial use.

Redevelopment introduces a new or material change to land use. Therefore, contaminated sites being redeveloped through planning should be supported by suitable risk assessments and remediation strategies demonstrating that the risks have been understood and can be managed supporting the new site use.

Via the Planning (General Development Procedure) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 the Planning Authorities must consult the relevant authority where ‘a development proposal involves the development of land that may be affected by contamination and is causing or has the potential to cause pollution of the water environment’. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is a statutory consultee to the local planning authorities.

The priorities of NIEA in assessing a planning application are to consider the potential for contamination to be present at the site that could impact on environmentally sensitive receptors including groundwater and surface water. The Environmental Health Department within the relevant Local Council is the authoritative body with respect to environmental health matters.

For more information, visit our planning and land contamination section.

Land contamination and waste

Remediation of contaminated materials may require consideration of whether those materials meet the definition of waste and if so, whether they should be classified as hazardous waste. Some further information on relevant waste legislation and guidance can be found in our website.

Classifying a waste correctly is a legal requirement that helps to ensure that the waste is managed appropriately. NIEA expect all waste to be classified and assessed in accordance with Technical Guidance WM3 and that any sampling of waste is conducted in line with Appendix D: Waste Sampling of Technical Guidance WM3.

Typically, remediation treatments and technologies employed for the treatment of contaminated soils and waters will be regulated by a number of permits, licences, authorisations and consents including mobile treatment licence’s, discharge consent and waste management exemptions. For further information contact the NIEA Waste Management Licensing Team and/or NIEA Water Management Unit.

Waste management verification is an important part of the remediation process. Through any verification report produced as part of a remediation project NIEA expect to see full waste management verification evidence presented be it in the form of permits, licences, authorisations and consents and/or waste transfer documentation in the form of waste transfer notes and/or hazardous waste consignment notes.

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