Changes to the law could speed up contaminated land cases

Changes to the way contaminated land appeals are dealt with have been welcomed by the Environmental Law Association (ELA).

Andrew Wiseman, Chair of the ELA said the changes would speed up the appeals process and increase the amount of remediation notices given.

The changes come through the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which has recently received Royal Assent. Section 104 of the Act states that in future any appeals against remediation notices issued under the contaminated land regime will be dealt with by an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, rather than by the local Magistrates Court.

"Most appeals are on highly technical grounds, so a fair degree of specialist training and knowledge is needed for the cases," he told edie. "Much as I respect the work that magistrates do, they are not always the most qualified to make judgements on these cases."

Mr Wiseman explained that remediation notices are issued by local authorities. However, because of the amount of time it takes for land to be identified as contaminated and for matters to work their way through the system, there have been few remediation notices given.

"When the contaminated land regime was originally introduced, many of us expressed our concern that these complex appeals were going to be heard by magistrates. This change is welcome to ensure that these appeals which can include both complex legal and technical arguments are dealt with in an appropriate forum."

It is likely that there will be a panel of Independent Inspectors appointed who will be able to pass judgement around the country. Mr Wiseman said now the new regime was in place, many more appeals should start taking place.

The new system should prevent such cases as the Sevenoaks District Council Vs Circular Facilities, which has been dragging on for several years. This case will have to be re-heard after the High Court overturned a magistrate's ruling, saying that the magistrate's decision was not suitably qualified.

Mr Wiseman, who is also Head of Environmental Law at Trowers & Hamlin, said: "These appeals need expert opinion need the sort of expert opinion that magistrates just can't give."

By David Hopkins



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