News: Scots face land contamination shock

Wed, 21 Nov 07

Land contamination could be the biggest financial threat to Scottish homeowners, potentially costing them up to £250,000 per acre to clear up. So why then do 97% of homeowners in Scotland fail to carry out an environmental search before buying a new home?

According to Landmark Information Group, the UK’s leading provider of digital mapping and land data intelligence, contaminated land is a serious issue that has been ignored for too long in Scotland. It warns Scottish homeowners that if they discover contaminated land underneath their home, it is not necessarily their solicitor or council who is responsible, but the homeowners themselves who could be forced to foot the bill.

Barry Love, Environmental Partner at leading Glasgow firm Semple Fraser Solicitors, comments: “Most people would be staggered to learn that environmental liabilities are not something that potential homebuyers would be told about by their solicitor when purchasing a home.

”The reality is that the buck stops with them and buyers could save themselves thousands of pounds by simply asking their solicitor for an environmental report. Simple due diligence on environmental issues from your Solicitor could ensure that you enjoy the safety and comfort of you home.”

Due diligence ‘essential’

James Sherwood Rogers, Managing Director of Landmark Legal and Financial comments: “The best way to check if your property is affected is to get an environmental search carried out.

“Buyers need to insist that their solicitor provides them with a comprehensive environmental and planning report as part of the searches carried out before a property purchase.”

Research undertaken by Landmark indicates that in some parts of Scotland, as many as one in five residential properties have been built directly on top of potentially contaminated land. In Glasgow over 67,000 residential properties have been built on land which has historically been used for industrial purposes. Landmark states that 240,000 properties are within 100 metres of such sites.

Glasgow’s industrial past is well known to have comprised of foundries, gasworks, and tanneries, shipbuilding, bleach and dye works. The world’s biggest Chromium and Cyanide factories for example, are located at Rutherglen and Cadder respectively.

The Rutherglen chemical works offloaded industrial waste around the area in the 1950s, which has contaminated the groundwater with Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium VI)***. Chromium (VI) is known to be toxic and carcinogenic and was the main pollutant found in drinking water featured in the film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts.

Buck stops with the homeowner

Homes built on former industrial sites are particularly at risk. One such example is at Royal Inch Crescent in Renfrew where homes are located on the site of a former gas works. Residents initially faced remediation costs for the land to be cleared up.

Other examples include a block of flats built on a former gasworks in Invergordon, which were finally demolished over a year after contaminated land was identified and residents re-housed.

The Scottish Executive has been able to help financially in many of these cases but where the original polluter cannot be found, ultimately the cost lies with the homeowner.

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