What can Hydrock’s Land Quality and Geotechnical teams do for you during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Environmental services for Wales & West Utilities

2nd April, 2020

At Hydrock, we’re doing everything we can to adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach during the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst of course, prioritising the health and safety of our colleagues and clients.

Hydrock’s land quality team get involved at all stages of a project’s lifecycle, and whilst many construction sites have closed and most people are working at home, when it comes to site investigation and geotechnical design work, there are a number of desk-based, or with due care, site-based activities that can still take place. Indeed, this is an approach that has been recently clarified by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

We’ve compiled a list of ideas that can help our clients at this particular time, which in turn will help them keep the UK’s property market and economy moving. Danny Hope, our Manchester based land quality expert highlights where we can help.

Land transactions

We actively help clients to sell or acquire sites, supporting the due diligence process by investigating and assessing risks from potential soil and groundwater contamination.

Informing our assessments is our own in-house web-mapping package, which uses open source data from organisations such as the British Geological Society, the Environment Agency and the Coal Authority, in addition to geotechnical, flood and LIDAR data that we’ve collected from the hundreds of sites we’ve worked on across the UK. Allied to the quality of aerial and street mapping available nowadays, this means we can undertake rapid site health checks remotely to inform our clients’ land transactions.

Our UK-wide team also includes four independently-accredited SiLC’s (Specialist in Land Condition), who are experts in advising on land deals.

Now is the perfect time to get a review of your site as our SiLC’s are expert at extracting the key issues from large, disparate data sources and can do this from their desktop. Further details on the SiLC scheme can be found at: https://www.silc.org.uk/.

Planning

Planning committees have been disbanded but measures to allow 'virtual' planning committee meetings have been pushed through which should mean that planning applications are still being approved.

Every planning application requires a ‘preliminary risk assessment’, aka a ‘Phase 1’ desk-based study, and we continue to offer this service to our clients during the current crisis, including desk-based coal mining risk assessments.

A key part of the phase 1 process is to undertake a site walkover survey. We can still do these as long as we avoid public transport and travel alone, with appropriate safe systems of working in place.

Site investigation work remains possible as long as it’s in line with current government guidance i.e. where single operator drilling rigs or excavators can be employed and social distancing can be maintained between our engineer and our suppliers. This means that we can still undertake work to inform design and to discharge planning conditions, although it does need to be reviewed on a site by site basis.

Earthworks and remediation

Where ground investigation data already exists, our qualified and experienced staff can work remotely to design solutions to overcome any contamination or geotechnical related risks. This could include temporary works design, land remediation strategies, earthworks, ground improvement design and foundation design.

We can prepare materials management plans (MMP) as these can be done remotely. This will allow projects to hit the ground running once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

On 1st April 2018, HMRC announced they would seek to recoup landfill tax for ‘unauthorised disposals’ – a MMP (or other mechanism) must be in place before earthworks commence to avoid the potential for HMRC sanctions. We have produced a useful fact sheet to explain this further which can be downloaded here.

Industrial permitting, site audits and liability assessments

At this difficult time, landowners and major site occupiers may be running a reduced workforce and site operations may be scaled back. However, now is a good time to get permits up to date, carry out site audits and review and undertake long term monitoring programmes. We can help with all of this.

Difficult to access sites

Subject to adhering to the government guidance around safety and social distancing, we can undertake proactive work at sites which are normally difficult to access and work on safely, for example, schools during term time or premises which are usually occupied but are currently closed.

Regulatory assistance

As the virus escalates, local authorities and the environmental agencies will be under increased pressure to find the resource to review submissions made by other consultants. We are able to undertake this work remotely and are already doing so on behalf of some local authorities and the Environment Agency.

Sustainability and BREEAM

With an emphasis on sustainability, we devise remedial strategies to ensure that the most sustainable methodologies are selected to minimise cost and environmental impact.

Our focus is on reducing disposal to landfill, keeping lorry movements to a minimum and maximising re-use of site-won materials. All stages of our work from preliminary risk assessment through to implementation of remediation can contribute to BREEAM credits.

Through rigorous, upfront project planning, we can help clients with their BREEAM assessments for any masterplanning, infrastructure and building projects.

Expert witness

Hydrock has a number of qualified experts who can act as expert witnesses for land contamination or geotechnical legal cases. Whilst many cases may be in abeyance at the present time, there is often a huge amount of information to digest and now is the ideal time to be instructing those reviews in advance of government restrictions being lifted later in the year.

Land Remediation Relief

Land Remediation Relief allows businesses to claim relief of 150% of the cost in cleaning up contaminated sites, against their Corporation Tax bill.

To qualify for the tax relief, the money must be spent on the remediation of the land, including: excavations, surveys, soil and groundwater treatment, consultant and contractor fees.

It is possible to make retrospective claims, as long as the expenditure was incurred within two years from the year end when the expenditure was incurred. We can assist any clients who believe that they might be eligible for this tax relief, and again, now is the perfect time to be undertaking this kind of work.

Let’s talk!

Hydrock has a UK-wide network of geo-environmental and geo-technical engineers. To discuss how we can help you with any of the areas listed in this article, contact Danny Hope on 07501 453584 or email dannyhope@hydrock.com.

Watch Danny's webinar on how you can prepare sites for the long-term during the lockdown here: