DETAILS OF contamination hotspots are to be withheld from the recently launched national register of brownfield sites.
Local authorities fear they will frighten off developers if they include details of contaminated areas on the register, said National Land Use Database project director Geoff May.
The database lists brownfield sites in 345 of England's 365 local authorities. The information is published on the internet. It is intended to contain details on all land use in England and is expected to be extended to include more detailed information about brownfield sites. It is negotiating with local authorities to release 'basic' data on the location of brownfield sites, their area, ownership, and previous use.
'No inference will be given to levels of contamination, ' said May. But fewer than 200 authorities are expected to give consent.
Land is currently categorised on the database according to its suitability for development.
Emphasis is placed on its suitability for housing and it is impossible to distinguish whether land is 'unsuitable' because of planning restrictions or contamination.
Local authorities are expected to provide a list of all contaminated sites within their boundaries under Part IIa of the Environment Act 1990 which came into force in April.
As part of the reporting process, they must assess the degree of contamination at each site.
Data must be submitted to the Environment Agency by the end of June 2001.
However, it is unlikely this information will make it on to the database, said May.
NLUD's backer, the DETR, wants it to become a resource for developers, surveyors, consultants and contractors working on the development of derelict land. It is seen as a key part of the Government's drive to build 60% of new housing on brownfield sites.
Remediation cost is still seen as a major deterrent to developers.
Local authorities fear that listing localised contamination within an otherwise clean site could blight an entire area.
A DETR spokesman said anyone wanting to find out whether a site was contaminated to approach local authorities direct.