Beckett responds to claims over hazardous landfill space and barriers to remediation

Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett has responded to a letter from the Environmental Industries Commission' (EIC) Contaminated Land Working Group, calling for urgent action to tackle what they see as long standing barriers to treatment solutions for contaminated soils.

The EIC letter highlighted the fact that treatment of contaminated soils was important to several key Government objectives such as: minimising use of landfill; regenerating brownfield sites and siting 60% of housing on previously used land; and avoiding stockpiles of hazardous waste – contaminated soils account for more than half of currently arising hazardous waste, government figures show.

The group said that the current regulatory regime for land remediation is a major barrier to those objectives, in particular the lack of a dedicated remediation permit, the problems with the reuse of remediated soils, and the weak implementation of Part IIA.

However, Mrs Beckett replied saying she did not accept the assumptions made in the letter that there was an acute shortage of landfill for hazardous waste as available capacity had been sufficient to meet current need.

She did admit that it was “disappointing that there was not a targeted remediation permitting regime” but hoped the EIC would be able to work with Defra on the programme of modernising environmental permitting announced in the Five Year Strategy.

“Pending this, my officials have set up, with the Cabinet Office Business Regulation Team, the Remediation Licensing Task-Force,” she wrote, adding that, “I do appreciate the concerns on timescale.”

Mrs Beckett said her department also intended to revise the guidance on the definition of waste so that ‘competent authorities’ and industry would be able to determine when a substance is waste and when it has been fully recovered and ceases to be waste.

Responding to the EIC claims of weak implementation of Part IIA, Mrs Beckett said that Part IIA: “puts local authorities under a duty to inspect their areas “from time to time” and in accordance with statutory guidance. That guidance leaves timescales to individual authorities and local priorities and circumstances.”

The scale of the legacy of contaminated land and how much it will require regulatory action under Part IIA, as distinct from action under planning or other voluntary action, is steadily being established by authorities carrying out these duties, she added.

She acknowledged that monitoring of performance by local authorities needed to improve and said she was grateful for the EIC’s support for a best value performance indicator on contaminated land.

Defra aim to secure a coherent set of arrangements surrounding contaminated land and will be conducting regular surveys of local authorities and utilising research by the Environment Agency on progress indicators to help move the process forward.

By David Hopkins

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