By Professor Paul Nathanail University of Nottingham; Land Quality Management ltd
In April 2012 the second revision to the statutory guidance underpinning Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in England and Wales came into effect. As well as finally allowing changes made by the Water Act 2003 to the provisions for protecting controlled waters to come into effect, the guidance updated the definition of what constitutes a ‘significant possibility of significant harm to human health (SPOSH).
Following decades of uncertainty for the contaminated land management sector about the meaning of 'unacceptable intake', Defra and the Welsh Government replaced the one phrase with a narrative definition of what constitutes statutory contaminated land. Land is placed into four categories: categories 1 & 2 represent a SPOSH; land in category 4 poses a sufficiently low level of risk not to warrant remedial action, while land in category 3 poses a level of risk that is neither so low nor sufficiently high to merit regulatory intervention under Part 2A.
The new guidance, coupled with updated planning guidance in both England (National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012) and Wales (Planning Policy Guidance, November 2012), has led to both regulators and practitioners to review their approach to risk assessment. While the Part 2A changes are intended to encourage Local Authorities to focus their ever-scarcer resources on the sites likely to be posing the very highest risks, the changes to planning guidance reiterate the need for developers to demonstrably ensure sites are safe for their intended use. The context in both cases was desired to encourage sustainable reuse of land and avoid unnecessary remediation. The key to delivering both in a cost effective manner is a sound conceptual site model where full use is made of available information about a site's history and ground conditions.
The guidance has been accompanied by a series of Defra-commissioned research projects and a renewed interest in training regulators and practitioners after a couple of years of anticipation and expectation. All in all the changes represent a stimulus to the sector that will stand it in good stead over the next few years of difficult economic conditions where the right decisions will need to be made promptly. Those developers and regulators who appreciate the value of robust and reliable information to underpin their risk assessments will be ideally placed to benefit from the changes.
Professor Paul Nathanail combines research and teaching at the University of Nottingham with being managing director of Land Quality Management ltd.