Australia has lagged behind some other countries in developing systems for the identification and notification of environmental contamination when buying and selling a property. The UK has a history of industrial development almost as old as the European settlement of Australia itself coupled with potential hazards, which we thankfully do not face in Australia, such as unexploded ordnance.
The UK has an advanced competitive market in identifying and reporting on property-based risk. Companies such as Envirocheck have built multi-million pound businesses developing databases of property-related risk, integrating this information with authoritative data and selling reports to those undertaking due diligence on properties that they are purchasing.
Victoria lacks a database, particularly a geographic database of contaminated land. The Sunday Age article acknowledges the difficulties and cost of establishing such a database and after developing a database of historical petrol station sites over the Melbourne metropolitan area for the CheckSite service I can vouch for the complexities associated with this exercise.
In the absence of property-based risk databases from ‘official’ sources, buyers of property in potentially risky areas such as former industrial sites, can minimise their exposure by arranging for an environmental site assessment by a qualified provider. State Government could also consider requiring an environmental assessment as a component of a Section32 statement on the sale of land in areas of potential risk. A thorough site assessment will not be cheap but it will be a lot less expensive than finding that your site is unsuitable for the beneficial use that you intended.
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