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Environmental risks in Construction Projects

Environmental risks in Construction Projects

New Construction Projects

For new construction projects, the location is a crucial element, not just the actual geographic position but its locational context in relation to neighbouring surroundings and the physical environment. Advances in geospatial systems and data are continually revealing new insights about the spaces we live, work and invest in.  For a development design to truly come to life, there must be continuity between the virtual concept and the reality of what is possible – both from a physical and financial point of view – and it is this vital role that planners, architects, surveyors, engineers, geotechnical and geomatics professionals adopt.

Data intelligence is a key linchpin to any project’s success. When armed with the power of location data, the right decisions can be made at every stage to understand – and overcome – any risks that are presented. And, by representing risks geospatially is how we can start to overcome them.

It falls to construction, architectural, engineering and development firms on making the land ‘work’ for development purposes. Therefore, ensuring that the appropriate due diligence has been undertaken regarding environmental factors at the outset could save a lot of costly surprises in the long-run.

It is also important to understand any former usage of the site to assess whether there is the potential for any contaminants to be present, and if so, whether any special measures or remediation is required ahead of development.

Having access to a wealth of digital data that can be scrutinised online as part of a project will therefore provide contextual information relating to the physical surroundings of the area. This could include assessing current and historic maps, land use constraints information, geological data, and historical land features, through to local plans, planning applications, and environmental data – such as flood risk or ground stability analysis.

By doing so, you are less likely to discover ‘the unknown’ too late into the land acquisition, assessment or subsequent construction process, and can adapt designs, plans or undertake further investigations as needed, without unnecessarily creating delays.

What should you consider?


Having insight into flood risk – both now and in the future is increasingly important as we are experiencing wetter winters and increased incidences of extreme weather conditions.

The extent of flood risk modelling techniques provide an overview of extents, depths and flow directions to support planning and range across flood sources; groundwater, surface water, river or coastal.

But a look to the future is crucial within our planning processes. The first national flood map for climate change is also available, which provides probabilistic climate predictions in order to model future flood risk as far ahead as the 2080s. This includes future flood maps, predictions of erosion, and the future risk to transport, all of which help towards planning sustainable and future-proofed developments.

Ground stability

Although not necessarily apparent to the naked eye, it pays to check whether the location has been subject to any historical activities that may have created potential environmental risk.  For example, any manmade shafts, pits, tunnels or such subterranean features which may have been created as a result of historical mining or quarry activities.  Reviewing historic data with local records will provide a good indication, while also taking into consideration the land’s geology to understand any natural land movement or subsidence risks.

Contaminated land

Sources of contamination can vary greatly, including some naturally occurring substances such as radon, arsenic or lead, through to the legacy of our industrial past. Suggestions include former service stations, landfill sites, dry cleaning factories, gas works or waste disposal.

Common examples of contaminants include asbestos, heavy metals in the soil, arsenic in wastes from gas works and chemical solvents polluting aquifers used as a drinking water supply.

Any disturbance to the land may result in dormant substances coming to the fore and potentially creating a hazard to public health, ecosystems, wildlife, water sources or even carrying a environmental risk of fire or explosion, with resulting litigation or clean-up costs.  As such, upfront data analysis is paramount.

By accessing historical mapping data, you can quickly identify former industrial buildings, quarries, landfill, worksites, gasworks or similar. By analysing these with current maps and aerial views you instantly visualise how a site has changed.

Underground assets

Understanding the features that lie below the surface is crucial before any excavations, designs or developments commence. The last thing you want to do when breaking new ground at a site is to disturb any utility infrastructure hidden below the surface. Utilities-based searches are therefore available which provide details of gas and oil pipelines, electricity cables, telecommunication wires, mains water supplies, sewers and fibre-optic cables, to name a few.

Today, the wealth of data available combined with sophisticated online tools and GIS, enables us to have greater intelligence on any plot of land than ever before. And, with responsibility ultimately falling at the feet of developers to ensure that a planned project is viable, safe and the land is appropriate for its intended use, it is crucial that the right data is assessed at the outset to identify any hidden environmental risks so appropriate measures are undertaken at the outset.

Source – pbctoday: Piers Edgell, Account Director, Environmental and Planning, Landmark

Verde Environmental Consultants provide a wide range of environmental services to development /construction projects including: