The new mobile treatment licence is a move in the right direction for the remediation industry but some concerns remain, says Clive Boyle.
Treatment-based remediation of contaminated soils and groundwater has a major and growing role to play in delivering brownfield site regeneration in the UK.
It is a little strange, therefore, that one topic that has exercised the remediation industry for much of the past eight years has nothing to do with the efficacy or cost effectiveness of remediation techniques, but only with regulation of the impacts - arguably a matter that should have been tidied up long ago.
Much of the debate has centred on the categorising of remediation as a waste management activity. It might be argued that land remediation is rather the business of regenerating and treating contaminated land for beneficial use.
Industry aspirations for a more rounded solution such as a remediation permit - outside of waste management - should not be forgotten.
For the past seven years or so, remediation has been regulated by use of mobile plant licences (MPLs).
While far from ideal, operation of the regime has been improved piecemeal over the years, largely as a result of constructive dialogue between regulators and industry.
The contaminated land working group of the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) has long campaigned for a more appropriate and streamlined licensing regime.
It participated fully in the Cabinet Office-led Remediation Licensing Task Force (RLTF) from late 2004.
Some improvements have been seen since I last wrote (GE April 2005). The problem of not being able to treat groundwater under an MPL in England and Wales was addressed in changes to the Waste Management Licensing Regulations last July. The Environment Agency (EA) has also clarified it will license the importation of waste soils for treatment, easing the way for the development of treatment centres, or hub/cluster sites.
The industry now awaits the introduction, early this year, of the new mobile treatment licence (MTL) with its promise of improvements in flexibility, consistency and most importantly, the time required for licensing of remediation projects.
EIC has responded to the EA consultation on the detail of the implementation, which it broadly welcomed, recognising that the essential elements of the RLTF proposals have been captured, namely:
a single licence that can be used on many sites;
a deployment form allowing the single licence to be used, with due consideration of the specific site risks and constraints;
a network of dedicated account managers to promptly and consistently deal with the licensing process;
Some concerns remain. First, the licensing guidance is still inevitably written from a waste management perspective with heavy referencing of site waste management plans - largely unknown to remediation practitioners.
Second, the standard licence concept has been extended by the EA to the point where an applicant will be able to obtain a licence to perform 14 named remediation technologies, regardless of intent, experience or knowledge of the health, safety and environmental impacts involved.
And there appears to be reluctance by EA to allow standard licences to be modified and grow over time.
Concerns have also been raised that some technologies already contributing to land regeneration projects in the UK do not feature in the MTL technology list.
Hopefully there will be further dialogue on these and other points before the MTL is brought into use.
The timetable for implementation is critically important to the remediation industry. Having said that new MTLs should be available for deployment by 1 April 2006, the EA must stick to this.
In an active remediation market, contractors have been making commercial judgements on their licence holdings over recent months, with a number applying for more 'old' MPLs to ensure that they have adequate licence cover up to April.
Those who have waited will not wish to be caught out with contracts but no licences.
Practitioners are picking their way through a separate consultation on the proposed charging structure for a number of licensing regimes.
Within that are some brief references to charges for the new MTL.
The RLTF proposals favoured a shift away from licence subsistence charges to a simple charge per deployment. This links the charges directly with the main costs incurred by the regulator and makes it much easier to identify licensing costs on individual projects, enabling these to be passed on to clients.
At present, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has not stated it will adopt the MTL arrangements or recognise an EAissued licence for use on Scottish projects. There is concern this will complicate cross-border remediation, leaving contractors needing two types of licence.
But the hope is that after a lot of work by the many stakeholders, benefiial changes to remediation licensing can now be implemented completely, effectively and in a timely manner.
Clive Boyle is a director of QDS Environmental and vice chair of the EIC contaminated land working group.