New UK contaminated land rules move closer

Government consults for a third time on site management, liability, regime planned since 1995

The UK environment ministry has issued a third and likely final consultation paper on the country's planned first specific rules on dealing with an estimated legacy of 300,000 hectares of industrially or naturally contaminated land. Foreseen in a 1995 environment law, as well as a 1990 law before that, the contaminated land regime is intended to take effect from next April and will apply only to England now that Scotland and Wales both have devolved assemblies. Drafted in the form of legally-backed guidance, the rules will introduce for the first time an explicit obligation on local authorities to identify existing contaminated sites. Where contamination is identified, new rules will determine how sites should be dealt with. Complex guidelines are also included on how legal liability for contaminated sites should be decided. The underlying philosophy of the rules is "suitability for use," the government stresses. It defines this in practice as ensuring that land is suitable for its current use, ensuring that land is made suitable for any permitted new use, and limiting requirements for remediation to work necessary to prevent unacceptable risks to human health and environment.

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