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Initiation - Information Sources

Certificates of Title

Certificates of Title (CT) are available from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

The CT may give some insight into the history of the site. In theory, the CT should show you all the owners of the site and mortgagors from the time the site was first surveyed or subdivided. They also often provide the occupations of the owners, which can be helpful when the company name is not indicative of their business activities. 

They provide the exact dates of changes of ownership and therefore can be helpful in establishing the history of contamination or discharges, the legal description, and the size and orientation of the property.

Regulatory Information

Property files

Historically, council building consents and records covered a wide range of activities.  Council inspectors were usually the primary source of information and advice to people undertaking construction works on a site. The consents or permits issued and much other useful information is often stored in the property file for a site, which is held in the local district or city council offices, or at their appropriate service centres. 

While a consent or permit itself may hold little relevant information, file notes or drawings accompanying the consent, may shed some light on the possible date that a particular process was initiated at the site or details of that process. However, although a search through a property file often yields much of the required information, it can be time-consuming and is not recommended as an initial screening process for site identification.  Much of the information present in property files may require verification.

Trade waste permits

The application for a trade waste permit from a site is often a good indication that a process involving chemicals was undertaken at the site. The trade waste permit will usually provide some detail on the types of chemicals and the amounts being discharged to the sewer. However, it is important to note that this will only apply to sites that are able to connect to the sewer, and sites that discharge to the environment or that are not connected to a council-operated reticulated sewerage system are not included.

Discharge consents

Regional councils hold considerable information in consent files relating to discharges for which consent applications have been received. Council databases are often organised in such a way that a search can be undertaken to find information about a particular category of discharge or industry. This is a useful way of screening for potential sites.

Consent files usually hold the consent application, any assessments of environment effects (AEE) carried out, requests for further information and responses received, submitter information (where the consent was notified), the Investigating Officer’s report and any reports commissioned by the applicant or council. There may also be information regarding historic consents, although these should not be viewed as a comprehensive record of discharges from any site without verification.

Council lists of contaminated sites

Both district and regional councils are developing databases on contaminated or potentially contaminated sites in their areas.

District councils may record this information through the LIM/PIM system but may also hold information about land in which they have a direct interest. These may include council-owned land such as council depots or landfills, or land that council exercises some measure of control over through land-use consents or permits for noxious or offensive activities. 

Regional councils may have information about a wider range of sites, particularly with regord to any discharges from the site.  Some councils are providing safe storage and disposal of unwanted chemicals, and records of the origins of these chemicals may identify potential sites.

Spill/contaminant release logs

Some councils may have logs of spills or emergency events.  As such they can provide a valuable source of data on potential sites of concern provided they are viewed only as a component of the whole data set available for each site.

Aerial Photos

Aerial photos can be useful in establishing the existence and locations of certain activities on a site, and dates before or after which an activity was or was not occurring at the site. For instance an aerial photo flown in 1945 may indicate that the site was still in pasture, in 1959 there was a sawmill at the site but with no sign of treatment operations, and in 1973 buildings had been constructed including a boiler stack and timber treatment was likely to have been commenced. 

While aerial photos provide very good information about site coverage (%buildings, %exposed soil, etc.), they will only provide indicative evidence of important dates (e.g. initiation of timber treatment activities) and historical site usage. However, when used in conjunction with other sources of information, they can provide a useful tool for confirming information held in property files.

Council Staff and Community Knowledge

Most councils have long serving staff that have a detailed and accurate recollection of the location and types of land uses within their areas.  This type of information can be obtained informally, but it is often better to attempt to structure this type of information-gathering to obtain critical details and to allow later verification. Likewise longstanding members of the community may remember the location of old sites such as sheep/cattle dips, landfills, timber treatment sites, abattoirs, etc.

Council staff and community members may be interviewed individually if it is understood that they are a repository of knowledge of this kind. However, where it is possible or evident there are significant gaps in knowledge, it may be prudent to consider undertaking a community-wide mail survey or media request for information relating to potential sites for which little is known.

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Page last updated: 01 May 2007

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