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Land contamination

Our role in managing and dealing with land contamination

For land contamination Natural Resources Wales’ key role is to advise local authorities during the planning process on the risks to, and protection of, the water environment.

We will also work with developers, their consultants and major land owners to provide generic and site-specific advice, particularly on water issues, prior to their applying for planning or when voluntary remediation is being proposed or undertaken.

What is land contamination?

Land contamination may arise from a previous use of a site, or an adjacent site, that has had an industrial, commercial or landfilling activity. Land can be contaminated by things like:

  • heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead
  • oils and tars
  • chemical substances and preparations, like solvents
  • gases
  • radioactive substances

Land contamination can have significant adverse effects on human health, property, ecosystems and water quality (eg rivers, groundwater and lakes) and needs to be managed appropriately.

You’ll have to deal with the contamination either before you get planning permission or as part of the development. You may also want to voluntarily clean-up a site you own or are responsible for.

It is possible for land to be legally defined as ‘contaminated land’ where substances are causing or could cause:

  • significant harm to people, property or protected species
  • significant pollution of surface waters (for example lakes and rivers) or groundwater
  • harm to people as a result of radioactivity

For more information on land legally defined as ‘contaminated land’ please visit Gov.UK and the Welsh Government website.

Guidance on developing land affected by contamination

If you are developing or seeking to voluntarily remediate a site which may be contaminated be familiar with the following guidance documents. They provide good practice guidance on investigating potentially contaminated sites, assessing the risks to the water environment, and how to deal with any contamination you find.

* Please note that NRW has not adopted the 'National Quality Mark Scheme' and therefore position statement J9 of the Environment Agency's approach to protecting groundwater does not apply in Wales.

These documents outline the information required by Natural Resources Wales to assess the risks to the water environment from any contamination present, enabling us to provide advice to the local planning authorities on what action to take. 

Contacting us for more information

If you’re planning a new development or voluntary remediation and want more detailed advice from us on how to manage risks to the water environment from land contamination please visit our discretionary advice service page. This sets out the service we offer and how much we’ll charge for this advice.

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