Sharing the risk

Land experts took the opportunity to warn businesses of the pitfalls of too many caveats in land risk assessment at this year's Environment Business-sponsored Risky Business conference. John Haven reports

Consider the long-term consequences before deeming a site contaminated and beware of the use of caveats in risk assessments, were just two of the strong messages which came out of Landmark's annual Risky Business conference last month.

Attended by more than 130 environmental and property professionals, the packed event organised by Landmark Information Group at the Royal College of Physicians, heard ERM partner Phil Crowcroft urge delegates to avoid sticking too rigidly to criteria such as the ambiguous Soil Guideline Values (SGVs), and to instead rely more on their own judgement when assessing the extent of contaminative risk.

"Being overly cautious and too prescriptive in determining a site as contaminated land can sometimes cause more psychological harm than the physical harm we have been trying to avoid," Crowcroft said. "Because of the lack of clarity in SGVs, it's so far taken nearly four years for 20 residents in Littleport to know whether the level of contamination in the soil surrounding their houses is acceptable or requires remediation work.

"Consultants have an important role in helping to guide clients through this process and advise on the balancing act between the likelihood of contaminants causing physical harm against the certainty of the psychological distress it will cause if a housing site is determined as contaminated land.

"A flexible approach and confidence in your own judgement is essential. If a site has only marginal exceedances of the SGVs, should that justify the whole or part of the site being labelled contaminated? Is this a realistic and accurate assessment of potential risk?" he asked.

In a separate presentation on legislative drivers, Henry Lang, director of Land Quality Division at Waterman Environmental, also warned that consultants are putting themselves and clients at greater risk of liability claims by continuing to rely on caveats in risk assessments.

Following best practice
Lang emphasised the need to ensure clients follow best practice risk assessment and remediation procedures, particularly in light of the recent Bawtry case, which demonstrated that clean-up costs could fall on any number of individuals involved in both the past and present development of a piece of land.

Lang, who was the lead technical consultant for Sevenoaks Council, the first council to take a developer (Circular Facilities) to court under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act, highlighted that pressure from clients to minimise costs has led to some consultants cutting corners. This often means minimal investigations being carried out which are so full of caveats that the resulting gaps render the assessment almost useless.

Who's liable?
Lang said: "Relying too heavily on caveats leaves both the consultant and client dangerously exposed. It is worth remembering that while a client may not view assessing environmental risk as a priority initially, as soon as there is a whisper of the words 'contaminative' and 'who's liable?', you can guarantee that it will be the consultant's door that they knock on first for answers."

Phil Crowcroft and Henry Lang were among seven keynote speakers at the seventh annual Risky Business seminar which has become an invaluable forum for professionals to discuss the latest challenges and opportunities regarding contaminated land and brownfield redevelopment.

The conference was chaired by Clive Boyle, Environment Industries Commission vice-chair of the Contaminated Land Working Group. The full day conference, which Environment Business sponsored, also saw Catherine Davey, partner at Stevens & Bolton, provide an interesting insight into regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks in relation to PPS3.

Davey also provided an update on the new clean-up standards required by planners and typical planning conditions. Other speakers included David McCreadie, associate of David Langdon Crosher & James, who reviewed changes and developments to the brownfield agenda over the last five years, including the basics and common misconceptions of land remediation tax relief.

David Crofts, associate at RPS Group, discussed how to achieve the balance between protecting wildlife and recreational areas with today's demand for new houses, using the issues surrounding Thames Basin Heaths as a topical and much debated example.

Karl Russek, senior vice president of Ace European Group, provided an update on how environmental policies are underwritten and priced, with useful tips on how to get a good deal on a policy, while Perry Guess, associate director for Technology Transfer and Networking, IPM-Net, closed the seminar looking at the drivers for sustainable remediation, including an overview of current remediation technologies and predictions for future remediation techniques.

The event also revealed the launch of Landmark's new mapping, land data intelligence and report ordering website, which has been designed specifically for environmental professionals.

Envirocheck.co.uk offers the environment industry quick access to a large collection of environmental, geological, planning and mapping information from one source.

With the new website providing more detailed mapping and greater environmental data intelligence, the service will enable consultants to produce environmental due diligence reports with even greater interpretation.

Constant changes
Commenting on the launch and the success of this year's Risky Business seminar, Richard Pawlyn, Landmark's managing director of property and environment division said: "Working in an industry undergoing constant changes, Risky Business provides environmental professionals with a convenient way of keeping up to date with the key issues and drivers directly from the industries most respected individuals.

"We are delighted with the attendance at this year's seminar and that the launch of Envirocheck.co.uk was so well received - it is significant milestone for the industry and will save precious analysis time and enable more accurate environmental due diligence assessments.

"Risky Business continues to be an important event in the industry calendar and plans are already afoot for next year's event."

For more information visit www.landmarkinfo.co.uk

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