LAPC inspections increase but fines drop sharply

Inspection rates under the local air pollution control regime reached their highest level ever in 2002/03, according to a survey for the Environment Department (DEFRA).1 However, the levels of fines has slumped sharply.

For several years, DEFRA has been pushing local authorities to improve their performance in implementing LAPC. It has stepped up the pressure by naming and shaming the poorest performing councils - a strategy which gave promising results in 2001/02 (ENDS Report 336, p 11 ).

DEFRA has now offered a carrot in the shape of an award scheme for "excellence and innovation in controlling local industrial pollution". Six awards will be made for best practice in any aspect of pollution control, including management and planning, working with industry and the public, and innovative approaches to securing compliance. Nominations close by 15 March 2004.

All 388 authorities responded to the latest survey for 2002/03 - the second year running which achieved a 100% response rate:

  • Inspections: Guidance from DEFRA specifies that councils should inspect most sites twice per year. In 2000/01, 75% of authorities failed to comply (ENDS Report 323, pp 14-15 ).

    The average number of inspections for processes other than service stations and small waste oil burners rose from 1.5 per process in 2000/01 to 1.7 in 2001/02 - and reached 1.9 last year, just short of DEFRA's target. DEFRA has named 31 councils which failed to achieve an average of one visit per process.

    Only one annual inspection is expected for service stations and waste oil burners. Again, authorities' performance improved in 2002/03 - with average rates rising to 0.98 and 0.92 respectively.

  • Prosecutions and enforcement: The level of fines for offences under LAPC fell sharply in 2002/03.

    In 2000/01, there were nine successful prosecutions with total fines of £87,510 - falling to £62,500 for six prosecutions in the following year. In 2002/03, total fines fell substantially to £39,616, spread across eight successful prosecutions. In a ninth case, the company being prosecuted closed without assets.

    The number of notices also fell from a record 2,780 in 2001/02 to 2,709 in 2002/03. Most were variation notices, but councils also served 163 enforcement notices and three prohibition notices - compared to 183 and one, respectively, in 2001/02.

  • Cost accounting: DEFRA has been keen to encourage proper cost accounting for LAPC regulation. In 2002/03, two-thirds of local authorities had procedures in place for cost accounting, up from half in the preceding year.

    Councils' total income from LAPC fees fell from £8.9 million in 2001/02 to £8.3 million - an average of £21,272 per authority.

  • Applications: The number of applications fell by 22% to 731. Decisions for new processes and substantial changes that were completed within the statutory four-month period fell from 75% to 70% in 2002/03. DEFRA sets the results against a decline in the number of authorised processes, down to 17,431 in 2002/03. This represents a decrease of 476 from 2001/02 - and 1,141 from 1999/2000. The total is dominated by coating processes (3,039) and service stations (7,252).

  • Reviews: Permit reviews, required by law every four years, are an important opportunity for councils to review conditions. The number of reviews increased by 3,139 to 11,688 in 2002/03, of which 74% were completed. The number of eight-year reviews required also rose by 8% to 5,788.

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