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Contaminated Land

contaminated landWhen we talk about contaminated land for housing use in the UK, we are referring specifically to land that has been contaminated in some way. Typically, this type of land is the site of an old industrial site, which is now run down and nothing more than an eyesore to the community. With housing demands being at an all-time high in the UK and contaminated land just sitting there empty, it only makes sense that something be done to bring the two together.

Keep in mind that when we talk about contaminated land, we are most often talking about mid-range environmental risks. Unfortunately, one of the challenges in building on such land is that private builders typically prefer not to share such information. Even so, you will find a number of reputable housing associations more than willing to work with contaminated land for building although most will not inform tenants that the land was once the site of a factory or some other industry where semi-hazardous chemicals were used.

The responsibilities associated with various authorities and contaminated land remains a little bit on the confusing side with many real estate agents and developers believing the UK's government should step up to the plate in securing the re-use of this type of land. Because we see more and more contaminated land being cleaned up and used for housing purposes, funding has loosened up as well. For years, there were some issues with money being discriminated against but today, many of the larger lenders are more than willing to loan money for builders using this type of land.

Currently, the UK's government believes that as many as 4.4 million additional homes are needed in England with 60% of those being built on what is contaminated land or what are known as "Brownfield" sites. Keep in mind that while some plots of contaminated land have higher risks than others have, you will actually find some of these Brownfield sites with just a very slight risk. However, another challenge in using contaminated land for building in the UK is that today, there are no set guidelines for cleanup.

Recently, an official poll was taken whereby most people believed contaminated land to have mid-range environmental hazards. In fact, these people also believed that greater contamination came from asbestos in buildings, car emissions, alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking than the risks associated with Brownfield land. The truth is that the exact evidence of contamination is unknown, meaning risks are also unknown. Although the level of harm is uncertain, some experts now believe that drinking water from contaminated land could actually put you at risk for cancer.

Another interesting aspect of contaminated lad being considered for building is that each developer has his or her own preferred treatment for cleanup. Then of course, you have the issue of homebuyers asking questions, which remains a concern. Generally, builders agree that buyers should be provided with information on the land but only if asked. In other words, the information advertised about a particular development that just happened to be on an old Brownfield site would not necessarily be disclosed. Builders also agree that if the buyer solicited a pre-contract enquiry, then they would have the right to know the land had been contaminated at one time. Now keep in mind that even for developers and builders, they too may not have full understanding of the degree of contamination. For instance, the builder may know that a certain type of factory sate on the land 10 years prior but not much more.

In most cases, you would see developers steering away from contaminated land. Instead, housing associations are usually the ones more prepared to take these types of sites and build on them. The reason is that housing associates are usually better prepared for dealing with all the aspects of contamination cleanup. In addition, unlike developers, housing associations generally do not by practice offer tenants information about past site uses. Even if a buyer were to ask, the housing association would probably provide only limited information.

Then, you have the planning authority, which have an entirely different approach. Usually, the planning authority makes it very difficult for developers to redevelop contaminated land. For years, everyone thought the challenge was that the approach was not standardized and that local authorities were not good at making decisions. The reality is a lack of clarity between the planning authority and the Environment Agency with neither party taking responsibility for the certification of the contaminated land.

Typically, development appraisals for contaminated land would be prepared by independent valuers or in-house surveyors to determine the extent of the contamination, the best process for cleanup, and then the cost associated. However, even in this case you seldom see any kind of special consideration being made for the effect of the leftover damage caused by the site, which means for the private builder, the risks are probably greater.

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