Environmental Site Assessments For Planning

Local Councils and Contaminated Land

The planning system is the primary means for regulating land use and approving developments. Land developers need to be aware that local councils have a significant interest in contaminated land and its use, because The Planning and Environment Act 1987 requires a planning authority to take into account any significant effects a planning application, scheme or amendment might have on the environment, or which the environment might have on a development.

Ministerial Direction No. 1 – Potentially Contaminated Land requires planning authorities (i.e. Councils) satisfy themselves that the environmental conditions of land proposed for a sensitive use (e.g. residential housing, child-care centre, primary school, agriculture or public open space) will be suitable for that use.  If the land is considered potentially contaminated and a sensitive use is proposed, then the planning authority must satisfy itself that the land is suitable through an environmental audit.

Also, when considering planning applications (any use) for land known to have been used for purposes with a higher potential for land contamination, Councils must require applicants to provide adequate information on the potential for contamination to have adverse effects on future land use, for example: a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) report, or a Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA).

Most Councils have determined certain areas that may be ‘potentially contaminated’ and have identified these properties with a planning overlay known as an Environmental Audit Overlay (EAO) – areas where development applications trigger a contaminated land audit.

An EAO is a mechanism provided in the Victoria Planning Provisions and planning schemes to ensure the requirement for an environmental audit is met before the commencement of the sensitive use or any buildings and works associated with that use.

A responsible authority, before deciding on a planning permit application, is also required to consider ‘any significant affects the use or development may have on the environment, or the environment may have on the use or development’. In certain areas this requirement may invoke permit conditions for a hydrogeological assessment (e.g. to assess shallow groundwater impacts), or for a landfill gas risk assessment (e.g. to assess possible methane from nearby landfills).

The level of environmental assessment required by a Council in assessing a development application will depend on the past site use and its potential for contamination, as well as the proposed type of land use. Published guidance for Councils to make that determination looks like the table below.


How can we assist you? Atma Environmental will review your planning permit and advise you on a specific scope of work required to meet the listed conditions, whether that be an environmental audit or a request for further information. By bringing our extensive experience on board we will ensure you are provided with just the right amount of information without being over-serviced and that frustrating requirements for any further reports are minimised to the fullest extent possible.

If you have any questions about this table, or require more information on planning issues and contaminated land, call Atma Environmental now on +61-3-9429 6955.