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So long 2023 and thanks for all the NPPFs

#tldr The 6th edition of the NPPF retains the requirement that developers and local planning authorities should ensure development is safe from land contamination. Site history remains the main factor determining whether a site is likely to be contaminated or not.

Gone are the days of sending – and receiving – over a hundred Christmas cards and so too are the chances of building a decent collection of Christmas stamps.  The tradition started in Victorian London, in 1843, but spread around the world.  The Christmas letter – that annual precis of family milestones – followed much later but it too is being replaced by steady feeds on social media.

Governments too have changed the way they communicate with the public sector.  For decades the Department of the Environment (DoE) and the Welsh Office (WO) would keep local planning authorities informed via a Circular letter.  If we go back to the tail end of the last century, 1987 to be precise, DoE Circular 21/87 (DoE) or 22/87 (WO), entitled Development Of Contaminated Land,  expressed “Government wishes to encourage full and effective use of land in urban areas and the re-use of sites which have previously been developed.”  It noted that in 1986, “almost half of all new development was on previously used land”.  Some things don’t seem to change.

Recognising that “Recycling of land helps to revitalise urban areas and reduces the need to use new sites outside built-up areas, thus assisting the protection of the Green Belt and safeguarding of the countryside” the Departments pointed out that “The re-use of contaminated land can contribute towards these objectives”.

The two page Circular and 8 page Annex provided advice and guidance on the identification, assessment and development of contaminated land. It replaced Circular 49/77 (DoE) 31/77 (WO) that had announced the establishment of an Inter-Departmental Committee on Redevelopment of Contaminated Land (ICRCL).

The Annex advises that “The possibility of finding contamination may be checked by obtaining information on the site history: sources include both written and oral records of the previous ownership and uses.”

Since 2012, planning policy in England has been driven by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  The long standing presumption in favour of development was replaced with a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The NPPF was first updated in 2018 and then again in 2019, 2021 and then twice (September and December) 2023!

Spoiler alert – neither of the two editions of the NPPF published in 2023 changed the guidance on development of land potentially affected by contamination. The development still has to be safe and the land has to be suitable for its next use. Oh, and the definition of a competent person remains unchanged too – choose wisely.

Circular 21/87 advises that the British Standards Institution is to publish DD 175 – a Draft for Development for the Identification of Potentially Contaminated Land and Its Investigation. Thirty seven years later, the BSI is once again set to consult on a revision of BS 10175, The code of practice on the Investigation of potentially contaminated sites.

Look ahead – my next blog will reflect on why there were two editions last year and what changes were introduced.

Paul Nathanail is a Chartered Geologist and Specialist in Land Condition and writes in his personal capacity.

Article originally published by Landmark Information Group.