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What Is An Environmental Search? Do You Need One When Buying A Property?

Buying a property can be expensive at the best of times so it’s no surprise that most purchaser’s are always looking for ways to reduce any associated costs. One way of making such a saving could be to proceed with your property purchase without having an environmental search carried out against the property.

What is an Environmental Search?

Local Authorities are required to inspect and identify contaminated sites and issue notices requiring the contamination to be remedied.  Such sites are then registered on the Local Authority Registers of contaminated sites. Whilst most Solicitors do carry out a search of the Local Authority Registers, the fact that this doesn’t reveal any contamination does not necessarily mean that there is no contamination.  It may be that the site has not yet been inspected. Environmental searches on he other hand are provided by companies that maintain detailed information about previous land uses within the vicinity of a property. This allows them to ascertain whether any past use is likely to have led to contamination.

How much does an environmental search cost?

Costs for an environmental search can vary depending upon the supplier but the average cost would be in the region of £50.00.

So what does an Environmental search tell us; more importantly should we really run the risk of not having one for the sake of £50.00?

What does an environmental search tell us?

With such a large databases of environmental information, including land use information from old Ordnance Survey maps available,  search providers are able to check whether the land in question or any nearby land was previously used for industrial purposes, chemical works or where manufacturing processes were carried on. The by-products caused by old industries may still be a health hazard for property owners from contamination of the ground on which a home has been built.  For example toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals will remain in the ground and be a potential danger to occupiers, especially children for many years.

The Results of an environmental search.

Once the search company has completed the environmental search the results will state whether the property is free of risk, or whether there is a potential risk and then issue some form of certificate – often accompanied by some form of insurance cover or warranty – to confirm there is little likelihood of contamination being present.
If a property is affected by contamination, it is possible that the local council will require the contamination to be removed. Liability for remedial action (often expensive) falls primarily on persons who ‘cause or knowingly permit contamination’ – hence the phrase ‘the polluter pays’.  However, if the polluter cannot be identified, liability falls onto the current owner or occupier.

In one such case nearly fifty homes in South Yorkshire were found to have been built on the site of an old gas works. Gas used to be produced from coal, and many noxious by-products were also produced such as coal-tar. This had seeped into the ground, and a subsequent environmental survey discovered many cancer-causing chemicals remaining in the ground on which the homes had been built.

Residents, especially children, were deemed to be at significant risk from contact with the soil or eating fruit and vegetables grown in their gardens. Remedial work involved removing all the contaminated soil, destroying the well-established gardens in the process.

Do you still want to save  £50?