Q&A: Creating the Single Environmental Report for Better Certainty

Geoff Offen

Geoff Offen, Managing Director, Future Climate Info

Future Climate Info (FCI) has teamed up with Terrafirma to deliver the most comprehensive package yet of environmental risk data, protection and support for homebuyers.

Available now, the all-new Premium Plus CON29M combines Future Climate Info’s Premium residential environmental search, with Terrafirma’s new official CON29M coal mining search, which has been approved by The Law Society.

We caught up with Geoff Offen, Managing Director, FCI and Tom Backhouse, CEO at Terrafirma on what this new partnership means for environmental searches for conveyancing

Why did you join forces to create a new report?

Tom Backhouse

Tom Backhouse, CEO of Terrafirma

Tom Backhouse: We share a clear vision about wanting to innovate and positively disrupt property information in a market that has grown rather stale in recent years. Conveyancers have begun to justifiably view lengthy desktop reports as something of a chore, concerned that if they referred to anything other than the risk assessment on the front page, they may be at risk at giving the wrong advice to their client.

FCI reports are brief, clear and contain some innovative datasets that consumers are rightly concerned about and want to know more about before they buy.

This is in line with our approach on coal mining risk – we wanted to change the way we identify, assess, manage and resolve the risks the ground poses. The public understand these risks more now, so we wanted to deliver user friendly data backed by expertise when they need it.

What’s different about this report?

Geoff Offen:  It was important to ensure that even with all the extra features, the report did not become a doorstop! This would fall into the old habits that have plagued environmental reports. Less is more in terms of pages, but not in terms of support and guidance.

Not only are there now full risk assessments for both contaminated land and coal mining risk, but also a postcode specific assessment of subsidence risk from our partners at Property Assure, as well as a rating of insurability on flood risk from leading consultants JBA. These four key areas can dramatically affect both insurance cover and lender security, crucial in the property transaction.

This combination really is a complete search. For homebuyers concerned about the changing neighbourhood we include details of major energy and infrastructure projects, and we also have high resolution data on air quality – a far more immediate concern for individuals and families concerned about their health.

How does the report help the due diligence process for conveyancers and their clients?

Tom Backhouse: It is about having as many clear, relevant answers as possible in one concise document. The Premium Plus CON29M Report does this for homebuyers concerned about mining risk in their area, but do not want to shell out on numerous reports that could overlap each other.

With risk assessments for contaminated land, subsidence, flood and coal mining risk, conveyancers can ensure improved client satisfaction with a more efficient search ordering process that captures as many risks with the fewest number of searches.

This is backed by expert support from both FCI and Terrafirma for more interpretation, insurance and indemnity protections for peace of mind, as well as access to other investigative services to keep the transaction moving.

Tell me more about the risk assessment approach

Tom Backhouse: The new report meets new Law Society guidance on deep and shallow coal mining hazards, as well as contaminated land risk assessment. In addition, there are two further assessments to give homebuyers greater peace of mind for flood insurability and natural subsidence. It is a unique meeting place for a great team of experts in their own disciplines.

Our coal mining risk assessment is built on market-recognised and trusted professional opinions signed off by the Law Society, answering important questions around susceptibility, impact on property value and on the lending process.  The mining geologists at Terrafirma interpret the data even if there are no obvious mining features present, utilising all official Coal Authority data for each of the 11 questions on the CON29M. Our professional opinion ensures that the risk of reporting on coal mining activity is transferred from the conveyancer to the experts at Terrafirma.

Geoff Offen: We look at all the data but only report the risks that are relevant and, since accuracy is just as important, we were the first environmental report to use Land Registry to define the property boundary accurately. So, we have already defined a high level of accuracy and “real world” view for the degree of risk exposure, backed by our expert interpretation.

We are proud of our self-learning system, the results of all the checks we make based on further information are incorporated to the system, and this means far fewer recommendations for Further Action – minimising time spent dealing with the issues and eliminating the need to make unnecessary repeated investigations.

What can homebuyers do if something shows up in the report?

Geoff Offen: Since we are working accurately and ensuring that only relevant risks are reported, we are absolutely minimising the amount of “further action” responses on a contaminated land and flood risk assessments.

But reporting a potential risk doesn’t mean everything has to stop. We offer a further free follow up risk assessment should more information become available that will reduce the risk, and if the risk can be resolved the report is readily converted to a Pass.

We haven’t just stopped at refining environmental searches. If, after all our best endeavours, a risk remains, we offer affordable contaminated land insurance options from CLS Risk Solutions, as well as a great value forensic flood risk review service from JBA Consulting. A lot of properties are classed as high flood risk, whereas the risk data may be the best available, the JBA experts reduce or resolve the risk in some 50% of cases.

What do you think will drive homebuyers’ concerns about environmental risk into the future?

Tom Backhouse: For me, it is about harnessing the power of technology. Our expert risk assessment is built on a significant investment in machine learning, but this doesn’t mean a computer just regurgitating the answer. It means accurately filtering potential hazards, so that time can be spent where it is needed the most, on properties where there is a complex mix of geological and man-made factors.

Climate change is driving a greater awareness to what is happening below the ground, as we have seen with the rapid expansion of sinkholes from past shallow mines. This trend will continue, as more of our mining legacy is revealed as these cavities continue to collapse.

Geoff Offen: Conveyancers will continue to advise on liabilities from contaminated land based on prevailing guidance. Clients on the other hand are also very focused on the more pressing realities of issues like flooding, changes in their neighbourhood and how air quality could affect their long term health.

Climate change will have long term implications on where homebuyers choose to purchase, as decisions are now made to live in a property for decades, not the short term. Innovative data businesses and conveyancers will need to ensure they are keeping up with clients changing needs and how to protect them from evolving risks.

For more information on Future Climate Info’s all-new Premium Plus CON29M contact 01732 755 180 or email info@futureclimateinfo.com


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