UK business briefs: Contamination confusion, Renewables funding, Welsh supplier, Oil leak fines, Heating schemes, Toxic lettuce, Greener shipyards

A major legal ruling threatens to throw Scotland and the rest of the UK's contaminated land strategy into doubt, according to a report released in Scotland this week. It states that the European Court of Justice suggests all forms of contaminated soil should now be officially classified as waste. While the ruling should ensure that contaminated land is properly cleaned up, it puts in doubt some of the practices currently applied. Scotland has an estimated 3,580 hectares of contaminated land and projects involving any of these sites might be affected.

New UK Energy Minister, Mike O’Brien, announced this week that schools, houses and commercial buildings will benefit from £8.5 million in extra funding to encourage energy production from solar panels and small-scale renewables. This brings the total funding for solar projects under the Major Photovoltaics Programme to £31 million and will enable a further three funding rounds to take place over 2005 and 2006.

United Utilities has been named as the preferred partner for up to 15 years to provide operations, maintenance and shared services activities for Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. The company will supply and distribute water in north and south Wales, and collect and treat wastewater in the north of the region. The new contract, starting on April 1, 2005, is worth around £1.5 billion in total, subject to five-yearly performance reviews, to coincide with future price control periods. It is expected the formal signing of the contract will be completed later this year.

Wessex Water was this week ordered to pay £7,800 in fines and costs after diesel oil leaked into the River Avon from one of its depots. The Environment Agency (EA) received a tip-off from a member of the public after they saw oil in the river at Westmead Lane near Chippenham. Wessex Water rang the Agency hotline to say the oil had come from its Westmead depot. Some of the diesel entered the River Avon through the riverbank. Oil was also seen spreading across the river at the footbridge around 50 metres downstream. The weather was extremely windy which probably caused the oil to disperse.

Thousands of homes in England, Scotland and Wales will benefit from new heating schemes backed by £15.5 million in Government funding. Under the community energy programme, 17 schemes will help to improve heating and energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty, helping 19,000 people on low incomes and cutting harmful carbon emissions by almost 10,000 tonnes a year. Among the government grants awarded was £4.35 million to Southwark Borough, London, for a new heating network serving almost 2,500 homes and 14 public buildings which will generate more energy savings.

The latest Government pesticide results have revealed continuing problems with pesticide residues in lettuces, and almost all farmed fish samples were contaminated with persistent pesticides such as DDT. A UK lettuce sample was found to contain levels of inorganic bromide, breaching the safety limit for 4-6 year old children by 5.4 times. Inorganic bromide residues result from the use of methyl bromide – a chemical that destroys the ozone layer and should be phased out in the developed world by 2005. However, the UK has requested exemptions for some crops where it is claimed there are no suitable alternatives.

And finally, shipyards used to repair and convert existing vessels are set to become more efficient and environmentally friendly with the help of a grant of €2,151,000 from the EU’s Framework Programme. Ship-repair to Maintain Transport which is Environmentally Sustainable (SHIPMATES) is a three year project to provide a blueprint for a technologically advanced and environmentally friendly ship repair and conversion yards, with a target of a 20% productivity improvement over today’s European yards. The project will provide a clear understanding of best practice in the ship repair sector, while mapping and simulating the range of repair and conversion yard activities (with the exception of the painting and coating).

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