Contaminated Land Regime - an outline as to the direction in which this issue may be heading, based on indications given by the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions 1

United Kingdom
Contaminated Land Regime - latest news

Pamela Castle reviews progress

We have been in contact with an official from the Contaminated Land Unit at the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions (DTER) to obtain the latest information on the progress towards the new contam-inated land regime. Despite having been enacted as part of the Environment Act 1995 the contaminated land regime is yet to come into force and has been the subject of considerable criticism. Rumours abound as to whether the provisions and the draft statutory guidance will be amended and even as to whether the contaminated land regime will be brought into force at all. Below are a number of indications given by the DTER as to the direction in which this issue may be heading.

  • The DTER had been hoping to put out a formal statement on the contaminated land regime prior to last year's summer recess. We now understand that they are still intending to issue a statement in the next few weeks.
  • There have been unofficial rumours that the Government is considering a return to the section 143 Environmental Protection Act 1990 type register system which was never brought into force. The representative from the DTER was, however, able to scotch these rumours.
  • The unofficial position appears to be that the legislation and the general principles set out in the draft statutory guidance are likely to remain unamended. The indications are, however, that the draft statutory guidance will be heavily amended particularly in chapter 4 which contains the exclusion tests. This results from the view that the drafting in chapter 4 is far too complicated.
  • The general aim is to improve the workability of the contaminated land regime. The Parliamentary Environmental Select Committee reviewed the contaminated land regime earlier this year and made a number of recommendations which the DTER are taking into account.
  • One particular point of importance being addressed is the overlap between the contaminated land regime and sections 161 A-D of the Water Resources Act 1991. It is important that the dividing line of these two systems is clarified as this will have considerable importance in practice.
  • One of the major criticisms of the contaminated land regime is the pressure it will put on local authority funds. The DTER was able to indicate that the new Labour Government is likely to be much more accommodating to local authorities than the previous government in this regard.
  • For land to constitute contaminated land it is a requirement that the contaminating substances cause significant harm or there is a significant possibility that such harm will be caused. The definition of "significant" as set out in the draft statutory guidance is being reviewed.
  • An interesting point which was made is that the Government will consider the contaminated land regime a success if no or few remediation notices are served under the regime. It is considered more desirable that contaminated land be dealt with by other existing regimes and that the contaminated land regime should exist as a safety net.
  • Officially the DTER are not working to any set timescale. Much will depend upon the level of amendments to the draft statutory guidance and draft regulations and therefore whether another round of consultation is considered necessary. It is possible that if the amendments are insufficient to require further consultation the contaminated land regime could be brought into force in early 1998.

As a final note of assurance the DTER indicated that the Government and, in particular, Michael Meacher are taking an active interest in this issue.