Reporting on progress with remediation of contaminated land in England and Wales to the Agency’s public board meeting in London, the Agency said that much of the clean-up of land across the country is being achieved as a result of redevelopment and through voluntary action rather than requiring application of formal regulation.

The Agency puts this down to Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act of 1990, which came into force in 2000. Although it was designed to be the driver for cleaning up contaminated land, it has had the additional effect of encouraging landowners and developers to remediate land voluntarily to avoid regulation.

In the first two quarters of 2004/05, 200 sites have been brought back into beneficial use through the planning process or voluntary action.

Delivering restored, protected land with healthier soils is one of the Environment Agency’s key corporate objectives and efforts are also being focused on reducing the number of pollution incidents to land and reducing the deposition of acid gases. The Agency reports that significant progress has been made in reducing sulphur dioxide emissions over the past few years, both through regulation and the change to using natural gas for power generation.

However, the electricity industry’s recent trend back to coal means that reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides has been very difficult.

News of the voluntary action results comes in the same week as the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) called on the government to take action to tackle the barriers to sustainable treatment solutions for contaminated soils.

The EIC said the treatment of contaminated soils is important to several key government policy objectives such as minimising landfill, regeneration of brownfield sites, and treating hazardous waste.

It calls the current regulatory regime for land remediation a “major barrier” to those objectives and calls for a simple system under which beneficial soil remediation can be controlled, and where remediated soils can be re-used more easily.

In addition, the EIC calls for full implementation of the Part 2A legislation, saying that just 120 sites have been formally designated as contaminated land in just over three years – a miniscule number given the many thousands of contaminated land sites across the country.

“We are aware that many sites are being remediated voluntarily or through the planning regime, due to a desire by the landowner to avoid the application of Part IIA (and the consequent entry on a register) and welcome this positive impact of the regime. However, it is clear that the majority of local authorities are not addressing their duty to inspect their area in a timely manner and the majority of the activity is occurring in a relatively small number of authorities. This is damaging the credibility of the regime,” the EIC said.

By David Hopkins

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