Contaminated land

Contaminated land is land where a substance which presents a risk of harm to someone or something (a 'receptor') in our environment, with a 'pathway' to reach that receptor.

Our Icon for pdf contaminated land strategy [1005.35KB] was adopted in June 2001. It tells you how we find contaminated land and what action we take.

We have identified potentially contaminated areas which we're investigating to see if we need to take any action.

How we investigate potentially contaminated land

Direct investigation: We look at land which won't be redeveloped through planning applications. We identify potentially contaminated areas and investigate whether they present risks. We have a database of areas on which we gather contaminated land information.

Investigation through the planning process: Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, we consider contamination issues on land being developed. Most contaminated sites are cleaned up during the redevelopment process, which brings 'brownfield' (i.e. previously used land) back into use.

Planning applicants are responsible for dealing with contamination on their development sites. Our Icon for pdf guide to help developers meet planning requirements [191.49KB] outlines the current requirements.

If you've been advised by a planning condition to install a gas or vapour protective membrane in a development, please refer to our Icon for pdf developer gas membrane installation guidance [662.31KB].

Contaminated land register

We have a duty to maintain a Icon for pdf Contaminated Land Register [17.73KB] - we currently have no entries of statutory contaminated land on this Register.

Causes of contaminated land

The legal definition of contaminated land is: 'Any land which appears to the local authority ... to be in such a condition by reason of substances in, on or under the land, such that:

(a) significant harm is being caused, or there is significant possibility of such harm being caused, or pollution of controlled waters is being, or is likely to be, caused.
(b) In determining if land should be regarded as contaminated land, the local authority must have regard to appropriate guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

Past uses of land and human activities, mostly poorly-regulated industrial and waste disposal activities, are the most common sources of contamination. For example pits where gravel has been extracted with the void then filled in an unregulated way, or former gas holder sites which go on to become housing developments. Until relatively recently, industry's harmful effect on land was not well understood. Consequently, waste was disposed of where convenient and developments were built with little regard for former land use.

Our legislative duties

Contaminated land has only really been considered by developers and planners since 1988.

Our duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which cover land not undergoing development are:

  • to inspect areas from time to time to identify contaminated land. See our Icon for pdf contaminated land strategy [1005.35KB] for how we identify and deal with such land
  • to determine whether any site is contaminated and designate special sites under guidance from the Environment Agency
  • to act as the enforcing authority for all contaminated land which is not designated as a special site
  • to establish who should bear responsibility for the remediation of any affected land
  • to maintain a public register of regulatory action taken to deal with contamination

We will investigate previous land uses in order of priority and assess any previous site investigations and remedial works already carried out. We may visit sites and undertake tests to find out whether these areas are contaminated.

Is brownfield land contaminated?
Brownfield land is land which has been previously developed, often for commercial or industrial uses. Brownfield and indeed any land may have some contamination on it, but may not meet the definition of contaminated land.

What are the Environment Agency's responsibilities?

Special cases of contaminated land are those which:

  • affect rivers, aquifers and water supplies
  • have radioactive substances or
  • are former Ministry of Defence land

If we identify a site in such a special case, we pass it on to be dealt with by the Environment Agency.

Contaminated land when buying and selling properties

Since July 2001, any solicitor helping you to buy or sell your home should include contaminated land issues within their searches. If searches reveal potential contamination or a potentially problematic historic use of an area, they usually make further enquiries with us.

If you think contaminated land may be a problem at your property and you bought it after 2001, please contact your solicitor as they should have alerted you to this.

As well as an environmental report, a Local Land Charges search may be carried out, to tell you if the property or area is on our Icon for pdf Contaminated Land register [17.73KB] (note that currently this register is empty).

Investigation of potentially contaminated land

Land which has potentially contaminative past uses, or where there is evidence of contamination, may be investigated. Soil, water and gas samples may be taken from the area to be tested for contamination. This may involve digging test pits or boreholes. The results of the testing will indicate if contamination is present. A risk assessment will then be conducted to find out if there is any danger from contamination to the users of the site (i.e. a 'pollutant linkage'). If there is, action may be required.

Who pays for these investigations?

For sites investigated under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act, we will pay for the cost of initial investigation to establish if there is potential for a pollutant linkage to be present. If the results of this initial investigation indicate the need for further investigation, we would apply for a government grant to cover these costs.

Applicants or developers must pay for the clean-up carried out as part of the development process of their sites.

We do not pay for private household investigations: this is the responsibility of the property owner.

Investigation phases

We must undertake investigations in phases to meet statutory guidance.

If the first stage of intrusive sampling works does not conclude any pollutant linkages, investigation will stop and the land will be considered fit for use. If the first phase of investigation identifies some contamination issues and further information is required, investigation will proceed to Phase 2.

The time taken to investigate a potentially contaminated land site will depend on what is identified during each phase of investigation and can range from a few months to several years.

Reporting contamination

If you have information to suggest contamination may be present on an area of land, you should email immediately.

We may already be aware of the history of the area and be able to provide further information. Each site we are aware of will be investigated by priority of risk. Much of the existing information on contaminated land within the Council comprises local knowledge and historical records.

Contaminated land conditions

If you have made a planning application and a contaminated land condition has been applied to it, this is probably because your application site is on or close to a potentially contaminated land source. A condition is attached to ensure your development work makes it fit for its end use.

Environmental information requests and charges

We are able to provide to you with information on previous land uses and to assess the likelihood of potential contamination on an area, based on the data we hold. There is a charge for this information, under the Environmental Information Regulations (2004), which is not subject to VAT.

Your request should include the full address, you contact details and a location map clearly showing the boundary of your site. Once we have received this you will be informed of the fee which are as follows:

  • for one property: £202
  • more than one property at a time: £387
  • an hourly charge of £91 for single questions or for sites that do not involve the retrieval of archived information.

We won't start work on your enquiry until we've received full payment.

Please contact the contaminated land officer for further details.


We can take payment:

  • over the phone
  • by cheque made payable to 'Runnymede Borough Council'.

Cleaning up contaminated land

If an area of land is formally found to be contaminated land, we will ensure it is dealt with. We will require remediation to make it suitable for its intended use through planning conditions and building regulations.

What is remediation?

Remediation is the cleaning up of contamination to leave the site suitable for use. This can take many forms including:

  • digging out the source of pollution
  • blocking the 'pathway' of contamination with a barrier
  • removing the 'receptor' (i.e. what could be harmed), for example by changing the use of the site from housing to less sensitive industrial uses.

The method of remediation and who pays for it is complex and dependent on which contaminants are found. Sometimes, remedial costs are borne by the original polluter. If the land is being investigated though the planning regime, the developer has a responsibility to make it suitable and so will pay for remedial works.

Finding the original polluter is often difficult as operators may have gone out of business. In these cases, the current owner or occupier can sometimes be held liable.

For more information email