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.
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.
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."