Planning and land contamination

Planning applications for the redevelopment of sites potentially affected by contamination need to be, as a minimum, accompanied by a preliminary risk assessment report which will include a desk study with information on the historical uses of the site and its environmental setting. Failure by applicants to provide adequate supporting information with the planning application in relation to contaminated or potentially contaminated land may result in significant delays in the planning process or potentially planning permission being refused by the Local Planning Authority.

Risk identification

In the event of potential pollutant linkages being identified, a suitable quantitative risk assessment may be needed. The risk assessment approach should reflect the current UK technical framework as outlined in the Model Procedures for the Management of Land Contamination. Further guidance on risk assessment can be found on the Contaminated Land page.

If unacceptable risks are identified, a remediation strategy may be required. The remediation actions need to be undertaken to a standard that enables safe development and end-use of the site such that it would not meet the statutory definition of contaminated land under Part III of the Waste and Contaminated Land Order (Northern Ireland) 1997.

It remains the responsibility of the developer to undertake and demonstrate that the works have been effective in managing all risks.

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.

Sites affected by contamination can be redeveloped successfully for a wide range of end uses. Gathering the appropriate information and understanding thoroughly the risks for the site ensures that they can be managed effectively within the overall development scheme.

A development project is more likely to be successful, and considerable effort and expense spared, if appropriately qualified experts with relevant environmental experience are engaged and used at an early stage and at suitable times thereafter as the development progresses to completion with evidence of verification of remediation submitted to the Local Planning Authority.

Previous activities on such sites may have resulted in soil and groundwater contamination and it is therefore imperative that any risks associated with contamination are considered as part of the planning and redevelopment process to ensure the development site will be 'suitable for use.'

Historical Land Use Database

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency's (NIEA) Regulation Unit holds a database of sites where, based on their historic land-use, there is potential for contamination to be present. Such land-uses include former petrol stations, chemical manufacturing or gas works sites.

The database was developed in 1997 and contains details on approximately 12,000 sites within Northern Ireland. However, the information has not been fully validated and details are provided on a 'without prejudice' basis. A listing on the database does not necessarily mean that the site is affected by contamination. If the previous land-use indicates the potential for contamination, NIEA would recommend an initial desk study, supported by an appropriate risk assessment and site investigation if required to determine if unacceptable risks to health or the environment are present.

NIEA’s Historical Land Use layer is available to view and search through the DAERA digital downloads page. Access is free of charge and by downloading and using these files, you agree to be bound by the Terms and Conditions. It is advised that the applicant considers previous industrial land uses of the application site by searching the Historical Land Use layer available from the DAERA digital website: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/historical-landuse.

A programme of work by NIEA Regulation Unit is planned to generate a new layer to compliment the historical land use layer using information obtained via the planning regime in relation to land contamination and remediation.

Further information on the industrial processes and materials associated with the site classifications that may cause the land to be affected by contamination are available in the relevant Department of Environment (DOE) Industrial Profiles. The DOE Industry profiles provide developers, local authorities and others interested in contaminated land, with information on the process, materials and wastes associated with individual industries. They also provide information on the likely presence of contamination, the effect of mobility of contaminants and guidance on potential contaminants. They are not definitive studies but they introduce some of the technical considerations that need to be borne in mind at the start of an investigation. Copies can be viewed from the CL:AIRE website.

Further guidance

Data sources

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