Contaminated land

The legal definition of contaminated land requires there to be a significant probability of significant harm to:

  • humans
  • water
  • protected ecology or crops / buildings

This harm can come from substances either in, on, or under the land.

They can include certain chemicals like metals and acids or oils, fuels and gases usually associated with industrial use of the land, although natural contamination also occurs.

The simple presence of such substances is not enough for land to be considered contaminated. There must be a proven linkage between the source of contamination and a particular 'receptor(s)' - otherwise known as an 'active source, pathway, receptor linkage', in the absence of which, land is technically termed as being 'affected by contamination' rather than 'contaminated land'.

Land which may be affected by contamination but has not been proven to be so by investigation and testing should be managed carefully.

It is nonetheless important to remember that in most cases the risks to health presented by industrial past use are low, as usually some form of clean up or containment has occurred and concentrations actually reaching humans or the environment are usually very low.

Download the below documents for more information:

Our role

Our officers will seek to protect public health by advising planners as to how to protect new developments from the risks of potentially contaminated land.

Local Authorities are also lead regulators for Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (link opens in new window). Introduced in 2000, this legislation provides a regime for the management of historically contaminated land.

The Act requires local authorities to take a strategic, prioritised approach to identifying land which may be historically contaminated and seek to identify the 'Appropriate Persons' responsible for dealing with significant issues. In assessing such situations we take guidance and advice from DEFRA (link opens in new window) (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and the Environment Agency (link opens in new window).

Download Central Bedfordshire Council’s strategy (PDF 316.9KB) .