Environmental searches bloom online

Solicitors can check out properties' environmental search reports on the Internet in a few minutes, rather than waiting up to six weeks

The Environment Agency has completed the initial rollout of a £4m project to make its property searches available online.

The Property Search project, developed with Computacentre, has already cut the time taken to compile an environmental search report on a property from six weeks to just a few minutes.

The EA currently provides 30,000 searches for conveyancing solicitors acting on behalf of house-buyers who want to know if a property is in a flood plain or if the nuclear power station at the end of the back garden is likely to cause any problems.

The online search facility is the EA's contribution to the National Land Information Service government portal that allows solicitors to conduct a range of property searches as part of Whitehall's e-government agenda.

David Price, project manager at the EA, told silicon.com the project will also prepare the agency for a potential increase in environmental searches to over one million a year as part of the new Housing Bill.

"It is a direct move towards electronic conveyancing. It is quite likely that an environmental search will be part of the requirement of the new Housing Bill. There will be a lot more searches required and these will be done by the seller, not the buyer," he said.

The project will enable the EA to cut the costs of preparing reports and invest more money in maintaining the data and information it provides.

Price said: "The Agency was incurring considerable losses handcrafting the reports. It is a chargeable service but the charges did not match the cost of dealing with it by a long way. We are not a profit-making organisation but we do appreciate this data costs a lot of money and we need a programme of continued investment, so now the revenues can be ploughed back."

The EA's new web infrastructure is based on hardware from Sun Microsystems with applications supplied by Oracle and Weblogic. Computacentre, which already hosts the EA’s main website infrastructure, will remotely monitor and manage the new environment from its Service Operations Centre.