After many years of reviews, workshops and stakeholder engagement, consideration of site contamination has finally been formally embedded into the new planning system. South Australia’s new Planning and Design Code came into effect recently in metropolitan areas of SA (as of 19 March 2021). This is the 3rd and final phase of state-wide changes to the planning system introduced via the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (PDI Act). The new legislative framework will result in referrals to the EPA for development applications involving a change of land use to a more sensitive use where certain classes of potentially contaminating activities previously existed on the site. The purpose of the reforms are to: Safeguard community health by providing a consistent State-wide planning approach to site contamination assessment Specify site contamination assessment steps that must be taken when a change to a more sensitive land use is proposed (including an application for land division) Ensure that site contamination investigations are consistent with the risk-based National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999, and Ensure that land is suitable, or will be made suitable, for its intended use where a more sensitive land use is proposed. Benefits of the new system include: ensuring the health of the community is more effectively protected by ensuring that site contamination is adequately investigated according to the level of risk protecting the value of residential properties from the adverse impacts of retrospective identification of site contamination, and providing clarity and certainty to developers about when site contamination will be assessed, what DA information is required to be submitted, when an EPA referral is required and limiting the circumstances that a site contamination audit is required to higher risk proposals. One of AEA’s SA EPA site contamination auditors, Jean-Paul Pearce, sits on the advisory panel and can help developers, planners, councils, contractors and anyone else involved in the property development industry to explain the process, provide advice and answer any questions. Furthermore, EPA will deliver online and face-to-face training during April 2021. Links below for more information and further reading… Practice Direction 14: Site Contamination Assessment 2021 PlanSA Resources Site Contamination Assessment fact sheet
Nine tips for developers to consider to help minimise liability and manage unknowns: Choosing the right consultant and auditor can “make or break” your project. If you get an audit quote for as little as $10k, expect variations. This can blow-out, so make sure you carefully evaluate the scope of the audit that has been costed. Audit the auditor. If an audit has been triggered, ask for similar case studies from the auditor and examples of where they have assisted the client and provided timely pragmatic advice. Be prepared if your design plans have to change to suit environmental requirements. Site investigations and results may take a while; the sooner you start testing the more the likelihood to meet your project timeline. Don’t delay the inevitable. Engage the auditor before you start site assessments to avoid unnecessary re-testing. Choose an auditor who has a good working relationship with the consultant as this will reduce time and interaction issues between them. Factor in a contingency cost for unforeseen environmental issues. A “just in case” fund. Don’t get stuck in the “it won’t affect me” bubble. We have seen this many times. It’s smart to conduct due diligence before purchasing the site, no matter what.
We get asked “How much will an audit cost?” almost every day. Auditors generally charge by an hourly rate. The rates vary depending on the experience and requirement of the auditor chosen. There are many factors for why the cost of an audit would differ. Some of these variables to consider may include: Nature and extent of contamination; Timing and quality of the consultants assessment and remediation work; Complexity of the site and future use; Number of documents for audit review; and, Need for a site inspection. If you engage an auditor early in the process then this may result in significant cost savings by reducing any possible project delays. Best case scenario would be a site that has undertaken due diligence prior to purchasing and has resulted in minimal contamination impact to human health and the environment, complemented with good quality consultant reports for auditor review. A more complicated scenario may be a proposed mixed-use site purchased on a contaminated property without any due diligence (resulting in further testing and remediation works) together with poor quality consultant reports and engaging an environmental auditor late in the process. What types of documents do Auditors need to review? Auditors review all sorts of documents, including results from soil sampling and analysis, groundwater monitoring events, remediation action plans, site environmental management plans, planning and development plans, any other relevant documents at the request of the auditor to assist in the audit outcome. Important Note Although those Auditors with more years’ experience may have a higher hourly rate, they may add value by completing document reviews quicker or pick up on issues for faster attention by the client. Choosing the right Auditor for your project will make a difference to the project’s bottom line. At AEA, we have seven Auditors with multiple accreditations/appointments across the country and a variety of disciplines. Call one of our offices to find the right Auditor to suit your project.