Defra has launched a consultation on a voluntary code of practice for sustainable use of soils on construction sites.

Jonathan Shaw, landscape and rural affairs minister, said: “Soil is a vulnerable resource and is vital for food production and supporting habitats and wildlife.

“We are seeking views from the construction industry on a proposed code of practice which includes measures like confining traffic movement to designated routes to avoid soil damage and correctly stockpiling soils to maintain soil structure.

“I hope that many businesses will see the financial and environmental benefits of adopting such a code.”

The code of practice aims to preserve soil resources from the impact of industry in the face of contamination and drainage problems.

These problems include spillage contamination, chemical use and the impact of sealing soils with impermeable materials affecting its ability to store and filter water.

By following the proposed code, it says construction firms will not only boost soils and help the environment but save money.

Poor soil management can cause problems such as inadequate drainage and site flooding, which ultimately increases business costs.

Proposed measures in the code include soil resources surveys on site before construction starts, and a soil management plan to show areas and types of soils to be stripped away, haulage routes and the type of soil in each stockpile.

It also advocates confining traffic to designated routes, keeping soil storage periods as short as possible and making sure all soil to be used for gardens or habitat creation is in good condition with enough air, drainage and root growth.

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) welcomed the announcement of the code but slammed the lack of any guidance about the level of pollution that should be deemed “a significant risk”.

Director Merlin Hyman said: “Government has been slow to issue this long-promised guidance and has not addressed levels of pollution that constitute a risk to public health.

“The responsibility for deciding on contamination risks lies with local authorities through the planning process.

“By refusing to provide guidance on the level of contamination that poses a risk and needs cleaning up, Government is leaving local authorities in the lurch – without criteria on which to make decisions.”

The consultation documents and the proposed code of practice can be found here.

David Gibbs and Kate Martin

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