There are times when you need to demonstrate that a piece of land is suitably free of contaminants and safe for a planned use. A common example is when a site previously used for industrial purposes is going to be re-developed for a residential building. Many times, you will be required to prove that the land is safe for the proposed purpose before your development can even go ahead.
Different legal and regulatory bodies can demand that a contamination assessment and auditor review be undertaken for a site, including (but not limited to) planning authorities, investors, and councils. If that’s the case, you’ll need an independent auditor to complete the review of the contamination assessment in order to provide greater confidence on the contamination status of the land.
Land contamination isn’t straightforward
There are a wide range of ways in which land can be contaminated. Some common examples include fuel storage, industrial processing, market gardening, or utilizing contaminated fill.
Different contaminants have different impacts on the land and can present a danger to human health or ecological elements. Even if contamination can be remediated so that you can develop a site, the costs of remediation or its associated liabilities can still impact the value of the land and cause significant delays to any building you plan to do on it.
Different contaminant profiles will require different investigation and clean up strategies. A land contamination consultant will first need to determine what contaminants are on site and define their impact on the soil, groundwater, and/or air quality. The proposed site use is an important factor in determining the threshold for unacceptable contamination. The more sensitive the site use or “receptors” (such as children in a childcare centre) the higher the threshold that must be met. Once the contamination is defined together with the receptors that are at risk, the land contamination consultant needs to demonstrate that the site is safe for the proposed use or recommend what remediation is required to make it safe.
As all these factors make land contamination assessment a complex process, auditors are sought to review a consultant’s work and confirm that the assessment meets the required standards. Therefore, you should always get a properly accredited expert to conduct the audit. In fact, the EPA and local councils will only accept a sign off from an accredited EPA auditor who must first meet stringent requirements before they can achieve accreditation.
Guaranteeing Compliance and Legitimacy
Independent site auditors are obliged to keep themselves up to date with changes in regulations, as well as maintain an up to date knowledge on emerging contaminants and new remediation techniques. Auditors must not have had any involvement with a land contamination document they are requested to audit. For this reason, a site auditor’s report acts as both an independent and high-level check of any data collated by the consultant and their interpretation. Likewise, it confirms that any recommendations that are made are appropriate and comply with environmental and planning laws. Having this high-level review of a contaminated site – or the action plan to make it safe for the proposed use – can be essential for obtaining Council permissions to build and when not essential, can improve the success of your project.
When do you need an auditor?
If there’s any chance that there might be contaminated land in play, a site assessment is a smart way to define your liabilities and development opportunities. As audits will often be statutory in nature and therefore, mandatory to meet a DA conditions or other regulatory requirements you may have no choice to seek the services of an accredited auditor.
Statutory audits are frequently demanded by the NSW EPA, which instituted the site auditor scheme to improve access to competent technical advice on contaminated land investigation and remediation. If this is the case, the EPA and planning authorities require an auditor to sign-off of on contaminated land investigation documents for a DA or clean up action.
At other times the audit will be optional – non-statutory, but still highly recommended in order to prove due diligence has taken place on the property. This is something that gives private investors or home buyers confidence and can add to the overall value of the property. Engaging an auditor for non-statutory purposes will also ensure your project is completed to the appropriate EPA and local government standards.
If you require further information or advice contact David Gregory, accredited auditor in NSW, Queensland, ACT and NT on 02 9979 1722.