A guide to environmental searches when buying a property

The environmental search is a search carried out with an environmental agency (not the Environmental Agency) that gives details of the past uses of the land and the land in the vicinity of the property and whether such past uses are likely to have caused any potential contamination of the land on which the property is situated.

This is an important part of the property purchase process since, if the land is found to be contaminated and the person who caused the contamination cannot be found, then the local authority can look to the land owner to pay the cost of cleaning up the land and removing any contamination. Obviously, such costs can be very high. The search does not state whether the land is contaminated but it does give an indication of whether there is a potential risk that the land could be contaminated.

We recommend to our clients going through a property purchase that we carry out a Groundsure Environmental, Flood and Planning Search through TM Search Choice, which is roughly fifty pounds more expensive than a standard environmental search. This search combines three separate reports into one, together with an expert’s opinion on the insurability of the property.

This enhanced search provides more information than a standard environmental search on issues such as mining and flooding and gives details which are not included in a standard environmental search such as:

  • whether any pylons and electricity transmission lines have been identified within 500 metres of the property,
  • whether any planning applications for house extensions or other projects have been identified within 250 metres of the property,
  • whether any existing or potential mobile mast locations have been identified within the vicinity of the property,
  • and other information relating to farming, entertainment, sports and fitness, animal welfare, hotels, eating and drinking, attractions, historical and cultural, retail, vehicle services, cash machines, nightclubs, emergency services, playground and picnic areas, transport, prisons, utilities, public facilities, hospitals, watercourse features and recycling services.

Further, a standard environmental search generally only gives the distance the property is from nearby potential contaminative uses such as landfill and waste sites and other industrial sites and it would then be up to you to interpret the risks of contamination given these distances (as lawyers we could not advise on this), whereas the more detailed search (unless further action is required, in which case it tells us so) gives a concise “passed” or “failed” answer taking into account specific nearby contaminative uses.

This search also confirms if the property is within a flood plain. It is important to establish whether the property is at risk of flooding, since this can have an adverse impact on insurance premiums, mortgage-ability and property value. If the search reveals a high risk of flooding in the area, enquiries should be made of insurance companies to see if any concerns are raised prior to purchasing the property. The unprecedented flooding and evacuation of properties in York in December 2015 highlights the need for detailed flood information to be obtained prior to a property purchase.

You have a choice as to whether you want the more detailed search, or the standard environmental search. There is absolutely no obligation or pressure on you to have the more detailed search, although we strongly recommend this. If you would like the standard environmental search, please let us know when initially instructing us. Otherwise, we will obtain the more detailed search on your behalf.

If you would like to receive a quotation or require further information on conveyancing issues then please do not hesitate to call our friendly team on 01785 223440.