Landowners and developers: know your responsibilities around contaminated soil

Jennifer Howe, Digital Content Manager

Contaminated soil and New Zealand Legislation | Morphum Environmental

Like many developed countries, New Zealand has a legacy of widespread soil contamination resulting from past industrial, farming and horticultural activities—often conducted before the harmful effects of certain contaminants were understood, and effective environmental regulations put in place. Due to the threat to human health arising from historical land contamination, the New Zealand Government has established the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil (NES). The NES mandates consistent, nationwide processes for councils and unitary authorities to follow to ensure the protection of human health on potentially contaminated sites. 

If you own or are planning on developing land which may have been contaminated in the past by hazardous substances, then it is important that you know whether your site is covered by the NES so that you can meet your obligations.

How can a preliminary site investigation help me?

If you are conducting earthworks on your site, subdividing a plot of land, changing what the land is used for, or removing or replacing an underground fuel storage system, then you need to know if your land is covered by the NES. A preliminary site investigation will examine the history of your land and its prior uses, and assess the likelihood that a hazardous activity or industry has taken place on the land. If it is more likely than not that such an activity has occurred on the site, then the NES applies to your land.

What are my responsibilities if my land is covered by the NES?

If you know that your land is covered by the NES, then you may need a resource consent to conduct your activity, but this is not always the case. For example, you may simply need to provide evidence that your activity meets the requirements of what is known as a “permitted activity”. The requirements of a permitted activity vary depending on the situation, but it can be as straight-forward as providing evidence that there will be no consequence to human health as a result of your activity.

If you do require a resource consent, then you will generally need to supply a detailed site investigation report, involving soil sampling and analysis, to support your consent application.

How can Morphum Environmental help?

Morphum Environmental’s team of environmental scientists, environmental engineers, land development experts and planners can assist you by:

  • Conducting a preliminary site assessment to determine whether your site is covered by the NES.
  • Helping you determine whether it is possible for you to meet the requirements of a permitted activity.
  • Conducting a detailed site investigation to support your resource consent application.
  • Providing a Site Management Plan (SMP), or Remedial Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the safe handling and disposal of potentially contaminated material.
  • Providing full guidance through the resource consent application process.

More information

For more information regarding your responsibilities around land contamination, contact us by email at, or call one of our branches and speak to someone in person.

Jennifer Howe

Digital Content Manager