What's in a name?

A bottle of champagne is on ice for the person who comes up with the most appropriate title for what has thus far been dubbed the Single Remediation Permit - a new initiative aimed at improving the licencing regime for the remediation of contaminated land. What's in a name? Matt MacAllan reports.

Contaminated soil is considered waste, the treatment of contaminated soil is considered waste management, and 'post-waste managed' soil is considered landfill. Clear as, ahem, mud.

In 1999, the then DETR Urban Task Force, chaired by Lord Rogers, recommended that an Environment Agency 'one stop shop' service be established, "moving quickly to a situation where a single regeneration licence is available, covering all regulatory requirements for cleaning up a site".

Private sector initiative
Resource shortfall in the Department, however, meant that nothing was done. Two years later, following continuous pressure from landowners, developers and remediation companies, a private sector-led initiative has emerged with the support of both the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and the Environment Agency. John Waters, director of environmental consultancy, ERM, and former chairman of the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) Contaminated Land Working Group, now represents EIC members on the Steering Group of the Single Remediation Permit initiative. He explains: "The initiative is jointly funded by the private sector and government, and is driving towards preparation of an alternative remediation licensing regime. We believe that there is an opportunity to introduce appropriate powers, not through the use of primary legislation, but through new regulations drawn up under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act."

Having convened first in December of last year, and following meetings with a number of key stakeholders, the Group has produced a draft report for circulation - available from the EIC - to be submitted to DEFRA in June, in order that regulations may be in place sometime in 2003. An ambitious timescale, certainly, but, as Waters explains, the market wants resolution: "We have had broad agreement, across the board, that the current situation is unsatisfactory. We have been knocking on the door of the Environment Agency and of DEFRA as the EIC, as landowners and as developers, explaining that this is not coming from just one side of the industry; that it is coming from all sides, from virtually everyone in the market."

The case for change
The report aims to first make the case for change, detailing difficulties with current arrangements, uncertain and inconsistent overlap with other regimes, and the need for alternative treatment approaches. Further, any new regulations will need to address both EU requirements and UK market needs, including: the potential for exporting technologies; regulatory certainty and predictability; costs; the transferral of investment (in Mobile Plant Licences) from the current system; and risk transfer, i.e. who should hold the permit, what happens when the site is sold, and who should hold any financial guarantee. Further topics of consideration include the application process and permit conditions, including surrender, enforcement, offences and appeals. Judith Lowe, formerly of DEFRA, also sits on the Single Remediation Permit Steering Group. She recognises that, whilst presenting a valuable opportunity to free an industry that currently has its hands tied, the Single Remediation Permit is unlikely to present a panacea: "New regulations may not be able to shift everything that we identify as problematic with the current system," she says, "Permit application processing will take a finite period of time. It will cost money - the Environment Agency is obliged to charge for that. Permit applications will require information to be compiled by the applicant. And they may or may not require other guarantees, including some form of protection if the thing goes wrong. The additional costs of getting a licence - maintenance costs, professional fees, may not change very much."

The name, however, will.


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