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Policing warning for contaminated land role change

Environmental watchdogs lack the skills and resources necessary for policing government legislation on contaminated land coming into force next year, consultants and legal experts have warned.

A final consultation document, Contaminated Land: Implementation of Part IIa of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (see Contaminated land news page 8) was published last month. It sets out the obligations of current and historical land owners, consultants and contractors and proposes a greater role for local authorities and the Environment Agency in recording and monitoring contamination, giving advice on remediation techniques and enforcing clean-up standards.

But its success relies on enforcing policy and standards. Environmental insurance specialist Certa's legal director Steven Sykes claimed that local authorities and the Environment Agency, responsible for prosecuting the regime, were over-stretched and would be hard-pushed to carry out their new duties.

His view was echoed by British Urban Regeneration Association contaminated land advisory group, which pointed out 'a shortage of adequately qualified staff and of funding to deal with the complex technical issues.'

Under the regime, from April 2000 polluters will be responsible for remediating sites to residual levels measured against planned use. Site assessments will take into account potential for contaminants to escape from the site, plus the psychological and physical well-being of those in contact with the site.

Government is to allocate £50M over three years 'to help local authorities develop inspection strategies, carry out site investigations and take forward enforcement action.' This is in addition to £45M allocated to meet capital costs. But division between England's 450 authorities gives each an average of £37,000, which raised questions over whether real improvements in resourcing could be achieved, said Sykes.

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