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Brighter future for brown land

The new Urban Task Force report was published last month. Paul Nathanail takes a look at some of the key points.

THE REPORT of the government appointed Urban Task Force has now been published. The urban renaissance blueprint recommends changes in transport, urban regeneration, design and management and contaminated land.

The contaminated land recommendations are ambitious and imaginative - cleaning up all contaminated land by 2030, developing a single regeneration licence, piloting standardised land condition statements and establishing a network for risk identification, management and communication.

The task force concluded that most contaminated land can be safely remediated but that present barriers are largely related to risk perception, inconsistency and a complex regulatory system.

Recognition that the regulatory framework needs to be simplified and consolidated will be warmly welcomed by UK holders of problem land, developers, professional advisers and - perhaps most warmly - by the regulatory bodies. Indeed, recent changes such as the mobile plant licences and the mooting

of ideas such as specific remediation licences shows that the regulators are, in principle, ready for such changes.

However, the request that regulators should give assurances to land owners that no further action would be taken if present remediation was found to be inadequate at some time in the future will probably not be received so warmly.

While the desire for 'once-and-for-all' certification that land is no longer contaminated may be understandable, it is not realistic.

Presumably, the public purse would have to pick up the bill for any later remediation. A better solution would be to back up remediation with insurance to pay for any residual contamination or future statutory remediation - something the task force notes happens in the US. Elsewhere in the report the need for the public sector to avoid contingent liabilities is also noted.

The call for a 'Kitemark' of contaminated land management methods echoes calls from some problem land holders for third party policing of environmental consultants and remediation contractors.

However the suggestion that government should run the certification is unlikely to be warmly received by professional bodies and trade associations - or even by government itself. Certification is envisaged to refer to the management process and not the end result, for which insurance would still be needed.

Land passports or user manuals have been mooted in the past. The task force reiterated the need for a standardised land condition statement to ensure that all stakeholders in a land transaction had access to the same database.

The release of technical guidance such as the Model Procedures and CLEA Guideline Value reports would go a long way to providing the technical underpinning required for such LCS documents.

Overall the report manages to convey a sense of satisfaction that many issues are being appropriately addressed and highlights several innovative steps that could be taken to allow land contamination to disappear from the list of barriers to redevelopment of 'brown land'.

Dr Paul Nathanail is director of the EPSRC IGDS MSc contaminated land management course at the University of Nottingham.

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