As a property solicitor dealing with both residential and commercial properties, Environmental Searches are often a part of the transaction. It is an optional search so purchasers do not necessarily need to obtain one but if they are purchasing with a mortgage the mortgage lender may insist on one being carried out. This can often be the case with mortgage lenders for commercial properties and bridging finance companies.
An Environmental Search checks amongst other things the historical land use of a site, land contamination, flood risk and the list goes on. The search could confirm if a property has ‘Passed’ or is ‘In Need of Further Assessment’. ‘Further assessment’ usually involves contacting the Contaminated Land Officer at the Local Council for further specific information, if they have it.
I think the majority of purchasers will not necessarily pay too much attention to the search. Indeed most would probably be more concerned with the valuation or fixtures and fittings form and therein lies the danger. Just because we may not fully understand the technical content of the search (and believe it or not we property solicitors are not environmental experts either) does not mean we should ignore it!
Generally, we only need to delve deeper into the issue if ‘further assessment’ is needed because that is when the problem arises. A mortgage lender could refuse to lend when there is a problem with the environmental search. Recently on a residential property purchase the environmental search company required us to ask the local council whether the property would ever be investigated for possible contamination under Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1999. Unfortunately, the council answered yes, but we would not know when the investigation would be or the outcome. Therefore, the property could not be ‘Passed’ until the results of that investigation were known.
So we may not always want or understand an environmental search, but do we need one? I think the answer is yes we would always advise that you do!