It's estimated there are between 50,000 and 100,000 contaminated sites in the UK, covering up to 200,000 hectares of land. Up to 20 per cent of this land may need treatment to reduce the potential for harm to people or the environment.

The government has adopted a suitable-for-use approach to deal with the legacy of contaminated land. This ensures that:

  • land is suitable for its current use by requiring remedial action to eliminate unacceptable risks
  • land is suitable for any proposed new use by assessing the potential risks from contamination and requiring necessary remedial action
  • remediation is limited to the work necessary to prevent unacceptable risks to human health or the environment from the site's current or proposed use.

Government support for redevelopment of brownfield sites

The government actively encourages the redevelopment of previously used land - known as brownfield sites. Successful developments have included new industrial estates, housing, shopping centres, warehouses and logistics centres.

Depending on your plans for the land, you may be able to get government assistance with the cost of remedying the land including capital allowances, exemption from stamp duty and enhanced tax relief.

GOV.UK: Land Remediation Relief

Advice for buying contaminated land

In Northern Ireland, if you plan to develop a brownfield site, you should contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to search the land use database. The database contains over 11,000 sites with records on previous land uses back to 1834. The NIEA will provide responses to site specific queries for free.

In Scotland, if you are planning to develop a brownfield site, the local authority register will show if it has been identified as contaminated land and what work has been done to remedy the land. However, if land does not appear in the register, it does not necessarily mean that it is uncontaminated.

Before you buy a brownfield site, you should take professional advice, for example from an environmental or property consultant, or lawyer. You could have the soil and groundwater tested to establish whether it is contaminated and to estimate the cost of remedial work.

Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments (CL:AIRE) is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to stimulate the regeneration of contaminated land in the UK.

CL:AIRE: Contaminated land

You can call the CL:AIRE General Enquiry Line on Tel 020 7258 5321.

The Network for Industrially Contaminated Land in Europe (NICOLE) is a forum for the exchange of ideas about contaminated land arising from industrial and commercial activities.

NICOLE: Contaminated land

You should make sure that you take out appropriate insurance. See the page in this guideline on insuring against the risk of land contamination.

Further information

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