THE CHANNEL TUNNEL Rail Link project team has been given nine months to significantly cut the number of pollution incidents on the £1.7bn scheme.
The deadline was set because the growing number of pollution incidents on the job has forced the Environment Agency to divert its inspection officers away from other important projects in Kent to concentrate on policing CTRL contractors.
This week, Agency operations director Archie Robertson met with project promoter Union Rail bosses to review the causes behind the high number of incidents since the project started on site in October 1998. He demanded assurances that performance would improve.
'I am disappointed with the number of incidents that have occurred. I view the next nine months as a litmus test for project performance,' warned Robertson. He added that the Agency would 'take a close interest in the project to ensure environmental protection is given sufficient priority'.
However, Agency area environmental protection officer for Kent Richard Logan said that improvements in performance would have to come from the management and contractors on the project. The Agency, he said, did not have sufficient staff to inspect every operation.
'The test is whether improvements are implemented on the ground rather than being sparked by my guys making a visit,' he said. 'We are putting a lot of resources into this project and having to take resource out of other areas to deal with this situation.'
Around 20 incidents of river and groundwater pollution have been reported to the Agency in the last year, nine of which were considered to have had serious environmental impact. These, said Logan, were mainly linked to bad weather causing construction generated silt to enter water courses.
He said that with better planning and thinking ahead to install mitigation measures, the number of pollution incidents could easily be reduced. 'We will always have difficulties because of the sensitivity of the area, admitted Logan. 'But we want to make sure that the construction doesn't have a massive impact on the environment.'
A spokesman for the CTRL said the project team would work closely with the Agency to reduce pollution.
'We have assured the Agency of our full co-operation and to this end we have proposed to hold a series of high level meetings with Agency officials to discuss how our joint goal of protecting the environment can best be met.'