Councils fail to identify contaminated land

Most councils in England and Wales have inspected less than 10% of their areas for contaminated sites since the contaminated land regime came into force, the Environment Agency revealed on Wednesday

The regime, also known as Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act, was implemented in 2000 in England and 2001 in Wales. It requires councils to identify contaminated sites such as old waste dumps and chemical sites and gives them powers to force the polluter to pay to clean them up. The Agency is responsible for regulating more seriously polluted ‘special’ sites.

The Agency’s report released this week provides a progress report on the regime up to March 2007. It is based on a survey of all 375 councils in England and Wales and received a 91% response rate.

Half of councils believe that less than 10% of their areas are contaminated, but over a third think they have more. The Agency estimates that there may be as many as 325,000 contaminated sites across England and Wales.

The report is packed with figures, but not strong on what they mean.

The report finds that a total of 781 sites have been determined by councils as contaminated under the regime, including 35 special sites. Of the 746 council-regulated sites, 144 have been remediated, whereas five special sites have been cleaned up.

But sites do not need to be determined to be cleaned up. The report finds that most polluted land is dealt with through the planning regime with only 10% of contaminated sites going through part IIA. Voluntary remediation accounted for 91 contaminated sites and 25 special sites.

The total cost of councils inspecting sites was around £30 million, and the total remediation costs to March 2007 was £20.5 million. A further £62 million may be needed to complete the process. Most of the costs are being met by the taxpayer.

Councils are fairly evenly split over how they perceive their performance, with around half saying they have made ‘good progress’ and half ‘little progress’.

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