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Local authorities under pressure to find contaminated sites

LOCAL AUTHORITIES face a potentially overwhelming task documenting and investigating contaminated brownfield sites, it was claimed this week.

The Government's new contaminated land regime comes into force on 1 April and will give England's 450 local authorities 15 months to identify contaminated land and draw up a strategy for further inspection (NCE 2 March).

But although local authorities are due to present their strategies to the Environment Agency in June next year, many see the scarce funding and lack of experience making the timescale impossible.

'If they haven't already started drawing up a strategy then for some local authorities it will already be too late, ' warned consultant Parkman's technical development executive Roger Johnson.

He claimed that potentially thousands of small contaminated sites are poorly documented. Visual and intrusive investigation, he said, is likely to be needed to verify the extent of risks posed.

Under the new contaminated land regime, local authorities are responsible for identifying contaminated sites and supervising their remediation. But in many areas, contamination has been ignored in the past. Authorities will find it hard to compile an inventory of sites posing environmental risk.

Local Government Association head of environmental health Ian Foulkes said demand on resources is set to be higher than many authorities anticipate.

'The investigation strategy will have to be phenomenally detailed, ' said Foulkes. He expects at least 20% sites to require intrusive investigation.

The Department for the Environment, Transport & the Regions is funding the cost of preparing the strategies.

However, no extra cash is available if authorities fail to meet the 15- month deadline. And while they will be able to force polluters to pay for past contamination, survey costs cannot be recovered.

The Government's statutory guidance on contaminated land is available from the Stationery Office, tel (0870) 600 5522.

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