Property Searches: Environmental Search

environmental search

Property Searches: Environmental Search

When purchasing a property, it is important to consider carrying out property searches. Depending on how you are financing your purchase, will determine whether or not you require Property Searches and the type of searches needed. Common examples of different property searches include Local Authority, drainage and water search, environmental, flood risk and coal searches. If you are a cash purchaser, the decision as to whether you wish for such searches to be carried out is down to you. Your conveyancer however would usually advise against proceeding without these searches.

This article in our series on property searches focuses on the environmental search. The environmental search is widely considered one of the main three searches that most mortgage lenders require. At Express Conveyancing, we offer this as part of our combined search package.

What is an Environmental Search?

At the appropriate time during your property purchase, your conveyancing solicitor will carry out the relevant searches on the property you are buying. This is usually on receipt of contract documents from your seller’s solicitor. The reason being that the contract documents will contain a copy of the plan defining exactly what you are buying and the full extent of any land. In doing so, they will commission various agencies and organisations to provide necessary information about the property. The environmental search in particular is carried out with a relevant environmental agency, rather than The Environmental Agency. One such source of some of the information is via your Local Council. You can find out who your local council is or will be here . In some cases although rare, the extent of a property can span more than one local authority. A typical example of when this happens is when the property you are purchasing falls close to a county line.

What information is revealed on an Environmental Search?

An environmental search reveals information about environmental aspects of the property and the local area including contaminated land, local energy installations, planning applications, ground stability and flood risk. The general search may also reveal more detailed searches that you should consider for your particular property or location.

Contaminated Land
Contaminated land in this context includes waste and landfill sites alongside historical land use. Substances that can be found in areas designated as contaminated land include heavy metals, asbestos, radioactive materials, oil, tar, gases and chemicals. For land to be legally considered contaminated, there needs to be the presence of substances which currently cause or have the potential to cause significant harm to people, the local area and wildlife and/ or water pollution either in ground water or surface water. Commonly land previously used for mining, factories, refineries or landfill fall into the category of contaminated land and will be specifically noted on an environmental search. There is also a separate category of contaminated land known as a ‘special site’. Designated special sites, commonly include Ministry of Defence land, nuclear sites, oil refineries, areas in which explosive materials have been manufactured or areas that are known to have been contaminated by radioactive materials.

Ground Stability

Depending on where in the country you live, ground stability can be an issue. With respect to houses, issues with ground stability can lead to subsidence which in some cases requires underpinning works. Instability in the ground can be either due to man made causes or naturally occurring causes. Man made causes are often due to the extraction of mineral substances such as coal, limestone or clay. Natural causes are often due to different geology within the landscape leading to landslides and sink holes, for example. An environmental search will indicate whether the property is in an area known to have ground stability issues and likely reason for such an issue, therefore indicating the need for a more in-depth search.

Flood Risk

Like ground stability issues, the environmental search will also give an overview indication of a property’s proximity to bodies of water or areas of known flooding and therefore highlight the need for a more in-depth flood risk search. It is important to consider some flooding causes are not that obvious. For example, a house situated next to the River Ouse in York City Centre, would to most people, be considered a high flood risk. However what is less obvious is any flood risk from overloaded drains, utility pipes, highway gullies, which if not maintained properly by the relevant local authorities can pose a flood risk to a property.

Energy and infrastructure

With an increase in renewable energy sources, developments such as wind turbines and farms and solar farms are becoming more commonplace. An environmental search will indicate the proximity of a property to different energy installations, farms and renewable energy plants. Infrastructure developments in relation to HS2 and Crossrail within a 2-4km radius of the property are also shown on a search, along with any planning proposals in the local area.

Radon Gas   

Radon Gas is a chemical element which once inhaled contributes towards the background radiation dose of a person. In high enough doses, it can have a negative impact on a person’s health. Some areas of the UK are found to have higher concentrations of the gas than others. The environmental search will reveal whether or not, a property falls within a radon affected area. If a property is found to be in an area affected by radon, it is recommended a radon survey is carried out and remedial work taken to a property. Your conveyancer will be able to make enquiries into whether or not this has been carried out by the current owner, so you can make an informed decision about proceeding and factor in the cost of any remedial works.                                

Do I need an Environmental Search?                           

In most cases, yes. Property searches as part of the conveyancing process are definitely recommended by conveyancers because they contain important information about a property that may not be visible on viewing.

A mortgage lender will insist on property searches being carried out and so if you are reliant on mortgage finance for your purchase, then you will need to have searches commissioned.

Your conveyancer can guide you through exactly what searches need to be carried out and whether the area your property is located gives rise to more detailed searches. Examples of this include areas with known flood risks and coal mining areas of the country.

If you are buying your property in cash, you have more options and it might be worth considering carrying out some searches especially those you think might be relevant to where you intend on purchasing, if you do not want to commit to all the searches. You also need to consider the fact that information held by various local authority organisation change all the time and so it is important to ensure a search is in date, as there can sometimes be a temptation to purchase previous searches if a sale has recently fallen through.

In Summary – The Environmental Search

By nature, house buying can be expensive and so it is tempting to cut corners in order to save as much money where possible, you need to carefully consider property searches and the important information they reveal as part of them. Whether your property is an urban or rural home, older or a new home, it can come with differing risks and so by using the format searches take, your conveyancing solicitor can accurately advise on any issues you may have when owning your property. In addition, certain factors can affect insurance premiums and they may not be that obvious. All of these are important considerations for the practical side of living in the house.

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