Environmental Matters in the Conveyancing Process

Environmental issues are relatively new to the conveyancing process  having only emerged as something the conveyancing lawyer should investigate in the last 15 years. Environmental factors are becoming increasingly relevant in influencing purchasers, lenders and insurers decisions.   Factors such as flooding, subsidence, issues of land pollution, radon gas and similar issues are increasingly making the headlines.

From April 2000 Local Authorities have been obliged to inspect and identify seriously contaminated land areas, however they are only slowly starting to come to terms with their duties here.   If in time the local authority identifies a Property area as being contaminated they can issue remediation notices requiring action to clean up the contamination in the absence of voluntary agreement to do so.   Liability in such circumstances would primarily rest with the contaminator of the Property.   However, if that person cannot be identified then liability could pass to the current owner of the Property and compliance could be costly.

In the light of increasing awareness of environmental factors, affecting home owner’s decisions on where they desire to live and mortgage lenders decisions to lend, conveyancing lawyers as part of the conveyancing process commission an environmental search on the property. An Environmental search report looks at a variety of records of issues including the historical use of the land, past contaminants and polluting processes, landfill, waste treatment sites, nearby toxic substances, the probability of radon gas and the risk of subsidence and flooding. As the search is a review of records held by the report specialists, it would not cover unknown contaminants or environmental risks.

It is worth noting that conveyancing lawyers are not qualified to interpret the technical results of environmental search. If you are uncertain as to any parts of the search result you may wish to discuss it with your surveyor.