Land contamination isn’t a rare occurrence in former industrial or manufacturing sites. However, it doesn’t have to mean that your development is condemned to fail should this happen. Discover how to efficiently deal with contamination.

Erskineville in Sydney recently saw some troubling cases concerning toxic contamination.

This particularly occurred at Ashmore, an old estate in Erskineville that previously had industrial purposes. The developer of an apartment complex might not have rectified the situation correctly, which led to concerns about real estate and contaminated land.

This caused the City of Sydney to ban owners from moving into their new apartments, which is a duty of care as the land is not safe for residents to live on.

Such city areas can, unfortunately, be highly contaminated as a result of past activities.

In the case of Ashmore, its industrial past left various hazardous materials behind, including asbestos and heavy metals.

Sadly, the incident in Erskineville isn’t isolated.

Contamination occurs in many areas of major cities and the most dangerous aspect is that people aren’t always aware of the risks involved.
To start with, soil and groundwater in locations that housed manufacturing or industrial facilities can become severely contaminated.

Besides making soil and groundwater unusable, contamination can use them as mediums to migrate and affect nearby sites. This means that even areas with no prior industrial use could be unfit for development – a risk that all developers should consider.
In an effort to make developments safer and more reliable to carry out, New South Wales introduced a policy called SEPP55. Together with EPA guidelines, SEPP55 makes environmental site assessment a requirement before councils can accept development applications.

But other states have yet to follow suit.

Environmental assessments have been the norm for over three decades in North America. Hopefully, they’ll become commonplace in Australia as well.

Being informed of the issues that contamination presents to developers is a crucial matter. This article will clarify the five key points about contamination and explain how the Archistar platform can help you deal with this problem.

The 5 Key Points

1. Understanding the Contaminated Land

As mentioned, contaminated land isn’t a rare find in Australia. In fact, according to CRC CARE, a leading contamination assessment national body, over 160,000 sites nationwide are contaminated due to their industrial background.

For developers, this means that due diligence in regards to contamination is paramount. And the best way to mitigate risk is to learn whether the site intended for development is contaminated.

If contamination is present, remediating the site will only become possible after the property transaction. Remediation requires additional costs and might take considerable time to finish.

It would be best if vendors disclosed the relevant material, making the buyer aware of possible contamination. Should they fail to do that, the purchaser could revoke the contract or claim damages, including remediation costs.

2. Possibility for Contamination to Affect Your Development

Since 2015, contamination isn’t likely to prove a considerable setback for developers. This is the result of all states adopting the NEPM (National

Environment Protection Measure). The legislation introduced scientifically determined acceptance criteria that are based on risk.
In practice, this means contamination assessment and remediation are now less costly and time-consuming than before. However, the exact cost in time and money will depend on your consultant’s proficiency.

The most efficient way to approach the assessment and remediation is through repeated systemic cycles. This iterative approach will allow you to gather more data, reduce variables, and make the entire process faster and cheaper.

3. Should You Worry About the Environmental Audit?

Environmental audits serve to identify any possible gaps in environmental compliance. These audits are required on sites where past activities might have caused contamination since they can help users determine how suitable the land is for future use.

Proper due diligence should ensure that developers understand what an environmental audit will entail in terms of costs and time spent. If you’ve gathered ample information beforehand, this process should be no cause for concern.

Independent accredited auditors review the site assessment and eventual remediation. If they determine that all requirements are met, the auditor will provide a contamination certificate or a site suitability statement.

How long this process takes depends on the nature and severity of the contamination. The audit could take anywhere from several months to years, which might seem alarming, especially for unprepared developers.

However, the consultant can try to remove the audit requirement from the property if previous research indicates that no contamination is present at the site.

4. An Excellent Environmental Assessment – What to Expect?

The first phase of environmental assessment is crucial for all subsequent stages of the investigation.

It starts with thoroughly reviewing all information available to the public. Then comes a visit to the site with potential soil sampling. Finally, an assessment is made based on the gathered information to determine whether environmental or health risks are present.

This first phase will provide enough information to determine whether the site experienced previous activities that could cause contamination. The assessment isn’t very costly, but it requires a local expert.

If there are indicators of potential contamination discovered in the first phase, it might be necessary to conduct a more thorough investigation. This would start off phase two, in which experts would test the soil and groundwater extensively.

Depending on the quality of investigation in phase one, the next phase might turn out to be significantly more costly.

5. Waste Soils Significance and the Worst-Case Scenario

If you have waste soils on your development site, there are different methods of tackling that issue. However, the most common is to arrange for the disposal of waste soils.

When it’s necessary to remove contaminated soil from the site, know that the process could be expensive and severely affect various development aspects. In Victoria, for example, disposing of one tonne of category B waste soils would cost well over $300.

What’s even more detrimental is that the process could affect your planning and construction schedule.

It’s worth mentioning that developers have a duty to report land contamination promptly if it has reached certain levels. However, the exact degrees of contamination that require reporting can vary from state to state. If you’re unsure about whether you need to report the contamination, it’s best to discuss the matter with your consultant.

Oversights concerning contamination, environmental assessment, or remediation can create considerable complications moving forward. Should you let some of those matters go unresolved or poorly executed, your reputation could suffer a significant blow.

As a result, the EPA and councils might become much less receptive to your applications. Additionally, future contamination inspections for your development land could be considerably more stringent.

Furthermore, in the event that a dispute arises and gets to trial, legal fees could quickly amass to millions of dollars.

Navigating Contamination Risks

Even though former industrial areas often present excellent development opportunities, the chances of running into contaminated land as a developer are relatively high. Luckily, there are a number of ways to resolve the issue.

The essential thing in that regard is understanding all of the implications of developing in such areas. If you know what to do with contaminated land, you’ll be able to prepare accordingly and take precautions.

In the end, whether you proceed with the development or not and the appropriate steps you need to take should you go forward will depend on the particular site. If the profit potential is considerable enough to justify assessment and remediation costs, developing on the land could be worth your while.

Archistar can be of great assistance every step of the way. From providing the contamination certificate to helping you plan out the development, the platform can help you make the best decisions possible.

Archistar’s contamination certificates identifies land reported as being contaminated and helps assess environmental risks and liabilities associated with the intended site use. Combining this with Archistar’s powerful property insights and rich data layers, you’ll instantly know whether a site is worth pursuing or not.

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