Tide begins to turn on LAPC inspections

Inspection rates for companies regulated under the local air pollution control (LAPC) regime increased last year, according to the latest survey.1 But they remain significantly below Government targets

Councils' underachievement on LAPC has been catalogued for some years by the Environment Department's annual surveys. DEFRA guidance requires authorities to conduct two inspections per year for most LAPC-regulated sites, a standard which most authorities have consistently failed to meet. In 2000/01, 75% fell short of the target (ENDS Report 323, pp 14-15 ).

Another problem revealed in the 1999/2000 survey was that only one quarter of authorities had proper cost accounting procedures. The Government responded by freezing the charges authorities levy under the regime (ENDS Report 311, pp 43-44 ).

DEFRA also began "naming and shaming" the worst-performing authorities following pressure from the Environmental Industries Commission, which is concerned that inadequate enforcement is depressing the market for environmental technologies. The latest survey of the 390 authorities - which achieved an impressive 100% response rate - suggests that DEFRA's tactics may be showing results.

  • Inspections: The average number of inspections rose from 1.5 per process in 2000/01 to 1.7 in 2001/02, excluding service stations and small waste oil burners. Inspection rates by 242 authorities remained below two per year for these processes - including 48 authorities which carried out less than one inspection per process during the year. However, inspections of service stations and oil burners increased.

  • Cost accounting: More than half of authorities said they now have procedures in place for cost accounting. The number saying they had no plans to introduce such procedures fell from 40% in 1999/2000 to 15% in 2001/02.

  • Prosecutions and enforcement notices: The number of authorities with a general enforcement policy increased from 72% to 85%. LAPC-specific policies increased from 33% to 39%.

    Some 2,780 notices were served in 2001/02 - the highest number to date. Most were variations of authorisation conditions, but there were 183 enforcement notices and one prohibition notice.

    As in previous years, the coating sector received the most enforcement notices - a total of 54 for the 3,255 authorised processes. Next were animal and plant treatment with 24 notices (out of 372 processes) and iron and steel with 22 (247 processes). There were also six successful prosecutions in 2001/02, bringing in fines of £62,500 - down from nine and £87,510 the year before.

  • Applications: The general improvement came against a background of steady activity among authorities. Although the number of authorised processes declined by 299 to 17,901 in 2001/02, authorities received 942 applications for new authorisations - a 41% increase. Decision times improved, with 75% of applications for substantial changes and new processes being determined within four months, up from 63%.

  • Reviews: Permit reviews are required by law every four years, and present an opportunity for authorisation conditions to be upgraded. A total of 8,673 reviews fell due in 2001/02, of which 83% were completed. Progress on eight-year reviews was much less impressive, with only 61% of the 5,379 reviews falling due being completed during the year.

    EIC director Merlin Hyman was cautiously optimistic about the findings. "The survey shows that the trends are in the right direction. But there is still a long, hard road ahead. Most authorities are still not achieving the required number of inspections."

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