Potentially contaminated land

At Environment Canterbury, we can advise you about identifying if your land has previously been used for hazardous activities and industries. The use, storage or disposal of hazardous substances can sometimes contaminate the soil, which may remain contaminated for many years after the use has stopped.

Areas across Canterbury have been identified for potentially contaminating land uses in an on-going process that will eventually cover the whole region. When we identify this land, we write to property owners to let them know. 

Affected landowners will receive an information package providing information on what we know about the site and an opportunity for the property owner to give us feedback. You can only be sure land is actually contaminated by testing it. 

Potentially contaminated land

 Key information

What is contaminated land?

Land is considered contaminated when there are any hazardous substances that could pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Hazardous land uses include orchards, market gardens and other horticultural land where chemicals may have been stored or spraying may have occurred; service stations and other underground or above-ground storage of hazardous substances; motor vehicle workshops, timber treatment sites and some industrial sites.

How does land become contaminated?

Where hazardous substances have not been used, stored or disposed of safely, the soil can become contaminated.

In the past, the use of hazardous substances was not as well controlled as it is today. Sometimes this contamination is still present many years after a land use has ceased.

How is potentially contaminated land identified?

We research historic records such as council files, trade directories and aerial photographs to identify land and record it on the Listed Land Use Register. The register is a publicly available database of land with a history of hazardous activities and industries that has been maintained since the 1990s.

Other information that helps us find affected properties comes from environmental site investigation reports and resource consent applications.
The Ministry for the Environment keeps the nationwide definitive Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL).
If analytical information from the collection of samples is available, the site can be registered in one of seven ways.
Why are we telling people about their land now?

If you receive a letter and information pack from us, it's because we know that at some point your land has been used for one of these hazardous activities or industries.

This does not necessarily mean your land is contaminated; the only way of finding out is to have the soil tested.

We have had an on-going project to identify hazardous land uses throughout Canterbury for many years and have already identified the majority of sites in Waimakariri, Christchurch City, Ashburton, Selwyn, Timaru, Hurunui and Kaikoura districts.

A lot of existing information about Canterbury sites is on the Listed Land Use Register (LLUR).

What is the National Environmental Standard and what does it regulate?

The National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NES) came into effect in January 2012.

The Standard regulates five different types of activity where land is or has been previously used for a hazardous activity or industry. It helps city and district councils to carry out their duties under Section 30 of the Resource Management Act. They must prevent or mitigate the adverse effects of the development, subdivision, or use of contaminated land.

The main effect of the NES on homeowners is the regulation requiring resource consent if you want to remove or disturb large volumes of soil, subdivide the land or change the land use on potentially contaminated land.

Find out more about the National Environmental Standard and how it affects landowners.

To find out how the National Environment Standard may affect obtaining a resource consent, talk to your local council.

Further information can be found at WasteMINZ.

Buying or selling a property on potentially contaminated land

A factsheet has been prepared by Wasteminz’s Contaminated Land Sector Group. This group includes representatives from Regional, City and District Councils around New Zealand, and from industry.

Read this factsheet about buying and selling property that has had previous hazardous land use.

Removing or excavating soil on potentially contaminated land

If you want to disturb a lot of soil, and the land has been used for a hazardous activity or industry, then there are rules you will have to comply with. Under the National Environment Standard there are a few requirements you must meet to be able to complete your work without a resource consent, including the following:

  • You are disturbing less than 25 cubic metres of soil per 500 square metres of land, and;
  • Any removal of soil from the site is less than 5 cubic metres of soil per 500 square metres.

As a general guide, a typical household trailer holds about 0.6 to 1.0 cubic metres of soil, and a small truck usually holds about 5 cubic metres.

Wasteminz’s Contaminated Land Sector Group, which includes representatives from Regional, City and District Councils around New Zealand, and from industry, have prepared a brochure with advice about earthworks on potentially contaminated land.

If you cannot meet these requirements, you may need to get a resource consent for the work. That will involve having the site investigated by a suitably qualified and experienced person.

If you are not sure whether your excavation work needs a consent, you should check with your local council before you start work.

Take a look at these factsheets for further information about the different types of potentially contaminated land: