The most important thing for a developer to understand about environmental site assessments is that the earlier they get a competent environmental consultant involved to perform a preliminary site investigation, the greater their choices will be in controlling any costs associated with the planning approvals they need, and the more money they will save on their development costs.
THIS IS CRITICAL TO UNDERSTAND! The two biggest mistakes a developer can make from a planing perspective are:
1. Premature demolition and construction on a site, which can cause cross-contamination of otherwise clean areas, causing a massive increase in site remediation costs!
2. Purchasing a property with undisclosed and hidden environmental liabilities, which are sure to surface when you try to get planning approvals through council.
In both circumstances mistakes can be very costly and often totally avoided simply by bringing in a competent environmental consultant early on, i.e. before demolition or before purchasing a property you want to develop.
Reasons for doing an environmental site assessment
The reasons and for doing an environmental assessment differ. Some are compulsory, for compliance purposes, and some are prudent, done by experienced developers who understand the risks involved in buying a property without adequate environmental due diligence done before they purchase.
On this website we have separated information about environmental assessments into three classes:
- Environmental assessments done for planing purposes
- Environmental assessments done in support of an environmental audit &
- Environmental site assessments done for due diligence
ESA’s for planing purposes
Local councils have a significant interest in contaminated/potentially contaminated land and its use. They administer the planning systems that regulate land use and the development approval process and important mechanisms that trigger the consideration of potentially contaminated land. The precise environmental assessment requirements imposed by the planning system vary depending on the proposed land use, the potential for contamination, site location and site-specific circumstances.
ESA’s may be triggered by:
- Applications for a planning permit, or conditions to an existing permit
- Subdivision of a property
- Applications for a change of use, or for rezoning
- Environmental audit overlays
Atma Environmental have extensive experience meeting all types of requests for further information that come from planning authorities – whether it is written into the planning scheme itself, or providing advice that your local planning officer requires, and we know how to manage these process so that you can comply with all requirements as economically as possible. That’s why we are the preferred environmental consultant to so many developers in Melbourne, who directly benefit from our proven track record.
Technical information about planning & environmental site assessments in Victoria
In Victoria, the Planning and Environment Act 1987 requires that a planning authority (when preparing a planning scheme or planning scheme amendment) ‘take into account any significant effects which it considers the scheme or amendment might have on the environment or which it considers the environment might have on any use or development envisaged in the scheme or amendment’ (Section 12). This may identify land that is potentially contaminated, or requires a hydrogeological assessment.
‘Potentially contaminated land’ is defined in Ministerial Direction No. 1 – Potentially Contaminated Land 1989 (amended 2001), as ‘land used, or known to have been used for industry, mining or the storage of chemicals, gas, wastes or liquid fuel’ (if not ancillary to another use of land).
Direction No. 1 requires that planning authorities (i.e. Councils) when preparing planning scheme amendments, satisfy themselves that the environmental conditions of land proposed to be used for a sensitive use (defined as residential, child-care centre, pre-school centre or primary school), agriculture or public open space are, or will be, suitable for that use. If the land is potentially contaminated and a sensitive use is proposed, Direction No. 1 provides that a planning authority must satisfy itself that the land is suitable through an environmental audit.
If a planning amendment affects a large part of the municipality, responsible authorities may apply an environmental audit overlay (EAO) on pre-determined areas identified as ‘potentially contaminated’, so that future development applications involving a sensitive (e.g. residential) use trigger the need for a contaminated land audit.
A preliminary site investigation will identify if the land is affected by an environmental audit overlay. EAOs 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.
It is important to remember that even if a site does not have an EAO, a planning authority still needs to satisfy itself as to the suitability of the land for a new approved usage because the Act also requires a responsible authority, before deciding on a planning permit application, to consider ‘any significant effects which the responsible authority considers the use or development may have on the environment or which the responsible authority considers the environment may have on the use or development’ (Section 60).
Therefore, some responsible authorities will also require an environmental site assessment or an environmental audit for planning applications which involve a change in use (irrespective of whether or not an EAO exists). For example: warehouse -> food factory. In these cases, Council may request information on:
- The nature of the previous land use or activities on the site;
- How long did the activity take place;
- What is known about contamination;
- Is an environmental audit required?; etc.
The level of environmental assessment required by a Council in assessing and approving a development application will depend on the past site use(s) and its potential for contamination, as well as the proposed type of land use. For more information on this see our free, downloadable report ‘What You Need to Know About Contaminated Land…”
When purchasing a site, why is it important to identify if an environmental audit may be required?
Simply said, the costs of completing a statutory environmental audit are far greater than for completing an environmental site assessment; and in many cases potentially contaminated land is not identified by virtue of an existing Environmental Audit Overlay. It is therefore important to engage with an experienced consultant who is able to forecast these issues, especially where making a purchasing decision. See environmental site assessments for due diligence.
To engage with an environmental consultant that is expert in contaminated land issues and environmental site assessments for planing matters, contact Atma Environmental today.