Potentially Contaminated Land

Hypothetical situation- you have just found the perfect piece of land to build your new home. It is a reasonable price and in a great location. Yet when delving deeper, you find that the land use to be the site of a cement manufacturer and therefore may be potentially contaminated. All of a sudden there could be incredibly large unforeseen costs that you are facing. 

Activities with potential for contamination

So what are the processes that potential buyers and planners will have to go through when dealing with potentially contaminated land? The processes vary throughout each state in Australia. In the Victorian State Policy Framework (Clause 15.06) it refers to Ministerial Direction No.1 which states that if the land has been used for any particular purpose which may have the potential for contamination “responsible authorities should require applicants to provide adequate information on the potential for contamination to have adverse effects on the future land use” (SEPP 2002). Such purposes could be:

– Mining, Ceramic, Gasworks, Electroplating, Abattoir, Defence Facilities, Brickworks, Iron and Steel Works, Pest Control Depots plus many more (for further reading check the General Practice Notice, ‘Potentially Contaminated Land‘ 2005).

Potentially Contaminated Land

(ISCCS 2005)

Proposed Land Uses

In Victoria, it depends on what the use of the land will be for and if it is of ‘sensitive use’ such as childcare, schools and residential purposes. As introduced by the Environmental Protection Act, a ‘Statutory Environmental Audit’ will then be required. Other purposes that are not considered to be sensitive such as retail/offices, industry or open spaces may only need a Site Assessment to determine if it will need an Environmental Audit. 

Statutory Environmental Audits 

The difficult thing to understand about this situation is that it is the potential buyers that will have to bear the expense that it costs to undertake a Statutory Environmental Audit. While they are on behalf of the government, skilled private auditors act independently to carry out the Audits. These can involve the sampling and analysing of soil, water, air and groundwater. Once the findings have been prepared, a Certificate of Audit will report if the site is suitable for development and that there are no restrictions. Otherwise a Statement of Audit will be issued that shows what restrictions there are on the site due to its environmental conditions (EPA 1970). A Certificate is the desired result as it will be the easiest way to proceed.

Example of Former Caltex Fuel Terminal

A very interesting case in 2011 was the former Caltex fuel terminal at 38-48 Blackshaws Rd South Kingsville, Victoria. Following closure and decommissioning of the terminal, a Statutory Environmental Audit was conducted by Connolly Environmental to enable redevelopment of the site. The audit process included an environmental assessment, soil and groundwater remediation. The proposed redevelopment was a large-scale project, which the Indicative Residential Development Concept (IRDC) indicated the site could accommodate roughly 154 dwellings.

An application for rezoning of the land from industrial to residential was lodged with Hobson’s Bay City Council In April 2010. Hobson’s Bay City Council requested further information including an environmental audit. The former terminal is listed on the EPA Victoria Priority Sites Register as a former industrial site requiring ongoing management. 


This of course is a very extreme situation, yet it is an example of how far these situations can develop. Once land is found to be contaminated, development cannot go ahead with out complying with the specific requirements. If clients are not complying, the EPA can issue a Clean-up Notice in which further work for remediation is required. In fact, in some cases continual surveillance of the land/water has to be undertaken for many years to make sure the environmental conditions have not worsened.

For further reading, check the following publications to understand the processes in dealing with Potentially Contaminated Land.



www.connolly.com.au with thanks to Mark Connelly from Connelly Environmental for background information.

Environmental Auditing of Contaminated Land (EPA Publication 860, July 2002).


Former Caltex Terminal at 38-48 Blackshaws Road and Sutton St South Kingsville. Amendment C82, Factsheet One, April 2010. Hobson’s Bay City Council. Accessed at www.hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au/

(ISCCS) Industry Standard Contaminated Construction Sites (Construction and Utilities) June 2005. Accessed at http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/c7f798004071f4af9fcadfe1fb554c40/construction_contaminated_standard.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

Ministerial Direction No. 1 – Potentially Contaminated Land 1989.

Potentially Contaminated Land, General Practice Note (Department of Sustainability and Environment), June 2005.

(SEPP) State Environment Protection Policy (Prevention and Management of Contamination of Land) June 2002.

Victoria Planning Provisions, particularly Clauses 15.06, 45.03, 54.01, 55.01 and 65.