MOTT MACDONALD is fighting an £18.5M damages award following a dispute over a brownfield site clean up in 1989.
The penalty was set last December when the claim for compensation by the Urban Regeneration Agency was made in the High Court. It claimed Mott failed to exercise reasonable care during the clean up of a site at St Mary's Island in the former Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent.
But the consultant announced this week: 'We are astonished and extremely disappointed at the judgement and have already begun our appeal. The advice we gave on the project, nearly 10 years ago, was in accordance with accepted practice and environmental standards.'
Mott MacDonald was hired by URA (then English Estates) as consultant for a residential development on the former dockyard.
Its initial site investigation showed the site was heavily contaminated but Mott believed that by removing the top 0.75m of spoil and capping the rest, the site could be cleaned up at a cost of around £38M.
But as work progressed contamination was revealed at greater depths which URA (EE) insisted was removed. Eventually 1.17M.m3 of spoil was taken away at a cost of £67.6M.
URA (EE) sued Motts in 1993 for £52.5M arguing it would not have conducted the clean up if it had known the true cost.
Valerie Fogleman, head of environmental liability at solicitor Barlow, Lyde and Gilbert, said the case was highly significant.
'It is the first major award of damages against an environmental engineer,' she said. 'But it also points up the problems that can be caused by the fact that the Government has yet to produce standards for acceptable levels of clean up for contaminated sites.'
Mott MacDonald is also facing a £48M claim over delays on Tsing Ma bridge in Hong Kong in the summer.