Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Flawed remedy


The Government's guidance on tackling contaminated land should be music to the ears of practitioners who are typically loaded with liability.

The guidance reinforces the principle that the polluter pays for remediating a site. It also makes clear that decontamination will be geared to a site's end use. Where there is no contact between contaminants and people or animals, and no danger of the pollutant migrating to uncontaminated sites or water courses, material should be left insitu.

The Government hopes that, by laying out responsibilities and setting standards, England can start clawing back into use 300,000ha of blighted land. But it might be disappointed.

Risk aversion has become an ingrainedclient attitude and critics fear it could take a generation to shake free developers' anxieties that decontaminated sites are accidents - and claims - waiting to happen.

Fears that the Environment Agency and local authorities will not be equipped to enforce standards do little to break clients' habit of distrust (see News).

Few clients or practitioners are likely to digest the 180 pages of the guidance themselves and the task of finding out just how useful the guidance is will fall mainly to lawyers and academics.

Legal experts are warning that, by retrospectively imposing the guidance on pollution caused since 1990, the Government is imposing standards that nobody, then, could have hoped to anticipate. Messy and potentially damaging legal wranglingis envisaged.

They warn that the join between contaminated land, water pollution and closed landfill regimes needs urgent tightening. A unified set of decontamination standards designed specifically for the UK is also vital.

Without complete and seamless guidance clients' trust will be hard won. And without backing from developers the remediation industry will continue to suffer from chicken-egg syndrome: it needs projects on which to develop new remediation techniques and to equip people with experience; and it needs experienced personnel and viable technologies to tackle complex projects.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.