LAPC survey finds flaws in process upgrades, inspections

Upgrading deadlines have so far been met for up to 90% of the industrial processes regulated under the local air pollution control (LAPC) regime, according to a study for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.1 But the survey warns that recent deadlines for large numbers of coating processes have been missed - and highlights serious weaknesses in local authorities' inspection and monitoring procedures.

Under the LAPC system, local authorities oversee some 13,000 processes in England and Wales. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency enforces the regime north of the border. LAPC is entering a critical phase as deadlines for upgrading existing processes to new plant standards draw close.

The DETR appointed consultants Cardinal Environmental to carry out the most thorough assessment yet of LAPC implementation. Interviews were conducted with officers from 50 authorities in early 1998. Cardinal also examined working files for 991 sample authorisations issued by these authorities.

  • Upgrading deadlines: The last official survey in 1996 found that one in three processes had failed to meet upgrading deadlines set by statutory guidance (ENDS Report 263, p 8 ).

    The new survey claims to demonstrate some improvement. All but three of the 50 authorities expected upgrading deadlines to be met in full - though audit of the working files showed a rather less impressive level of compliance.

    In all, 240 of the sample processes were due to be upgraded before March 1998. The study found that this deadline was missed completely for 26 (11%) processes - covered by 18 authorities - and in part for a further 13 (5%). Extensions to deadlines were given to 17 processes. DETR guidance says these are to be granted "only in exceptional circumstances."

    However, the report warns, the finding of an apparent improvement since 1996 "would have greater weight if there had been more evidence of routine process inspection specifically to confirm that upgrading had taken place." Only half of the authorities routinely carry out inspections to confirm that upgrading has been carried out.

    Furthermore, the survey stopped before 1 April - a key upgrading deadline for large numbers of coating and vehicle respraying processes. Cardinal says it is "not likely" that this deadline has been met by all authorities, and that compliance may not be achieved before the end of the year.

    The report also suggests that authorities have had considerable difficulties in obtaining upgrading proposals from operators. The vast majority were required to submit programmes by authorisation conditions rather than with their initial applications. But 58% missed the deadline for submission, often by well over a year. Cardinal found that "substantial numbers of upgrading programmes with deadlines long past had not been received by March 1998."

    For the vast majority of processes, upgrading was required by a single authorisation condition. The report notes that such general conditions "could well be unenforceable against particular operator failures," and urges authorities to use variation notices to give effect to upgrading programmes.

  • Review of authorisations: The survey suggests that many authorities - particularly district councils - are falling way behind in their statutory four-yearly reviews of authorisations. Of 609 authorisations due for review before the end of January, 363 (60%) had not been reviewed. Some authorities have yet to carry out any reviews at all.

  • Inspection and monitoring: Process inspection was found to be "largely ad hoc, unplanned, apparently unstructured and driven by reactive complaint considerations." Authorities' files contained "little or no record" of inspections or their findings. Cardinal has urged the DETR to issue guidance on the conduct and scope of inspections.

    Very few authorities owned or had access to monitoring equipment, leading to a reliance on operator monitoring. The report says that they should invest more in training and monitoring equipment to enable them to carry out spot checks.

  • Enforcement: Enforcement notices had been served on only 3% of the processes audited. Sixteen authorities had brought prosecutions for operating without an authorisation or for a breach of conditions.

  • Local authority resources: Tracking of LAPC costs was found to be "poor". Just two local authorities had separate LAPC accounts - both showing significant shortfalls - and only five ring-fence funding from LAPC fees. The report calls for authorities to make greater use of ring-fencing "to satisfy operators and the public that monies are not being diverted away from LAPC into other areas."

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