DO I NEED A
In this section, we discuss the context in which a Phase 1 Desk Study is likely to be required. This focuses on the planning system, given that most Desk Studies are produced to support a planning application. However, there are some instances where a Desk Study might be required outside the planning system, such as during due diligence work, environmental permitting, warranty provision or for lending purposes.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR BROWNFIELD SITE ASSESSMENT?
Section 120 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out that:
Where a site is affected by contamination or land stability issues, responsibility for securing a safe development rests with the developer and/or landowner.
So in effect, it is the responsibility of the developer to identify land affected by contamination and ensure that an appropriate level of assessment (including remediation if necessary) is carried out.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY SITE WILL REQUIRE ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT?
The NPPF goes on to state:
The effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, the natural environment or general amenity, and the potential sensitivity of the area or proposed development to adverse effects from pollution should be taken into account.
The two key qualifiers here are: sites that have been ‘affected by contamination’ and those that have a ‘potential sensitivity’ to contamination. The former is relatively easy to define - if the site has comprised any former commercial or industrial use then the area has the potential to be affected by contamination. Defining sensitivity can be more difficult. As a rule of thumb, residential development, allotments, schools, and hospitals are all generally considered to be sensitive to contamination.
We can, therefore, conclude that if a site has been affected by contamination or comprises a sensitive end use, then some site assessment is likely to be necessary.
DO I NEED TO SUBMIT A DESK STUDY WITH MY PLANNING APPLICATION?
In April 2008, the government department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) introduced a standard planning application form known as the 1App system. The section of the application relating to contamination looks like this:
The applicant or agent is asked to declare whether the land is known to be contaminated, if contamination is suspected on all or parts of the site, and if the proposed land use is vulnerable to contamination. If any of these scenarios apply, then an appropriate level of contamination assessment should be submitted with the application.
WHAT IS AN 'APPROPRIATE' LEVEL OF ASSESSMENT?
Clearly, it would be unreasonable to go through the entire brownfield site assessment process without any guarantee that the application will be granted. Therefore a ‘preliminary’ level of assessment is usually sufficient to fulfil the planning requirements under the 1App system. In most circumstances, this should comprise a Phase 1 Environmental Desk Study.
The Desk Study may conclude that there are no risks to future users or the surrounding environment, in which case, no further assessment will be necessary. However, if further site investigation, risk assessment or remedial works are required then these items can usually be conditioned on any planning approval granted by the local authority.
The only exception to this might be where significant impacts from contamination are known to exist and further assessment is required up-front, in order to demonstrate that the new development would be financially viable.
The above process can be summarised within the following flowchart: