Our small but highly competent team of environmental scientists and engineers combines rigorous postgraduate academic training with a wealth of experience in both environmental consultancy and contracting. This enables us to better appreciate our clients’ objectives, the risks they face and constraints they work within. No two sites, projects or clients are quite the same, and we pride ourselves on our resourceful approach to developing innovative practical solutions that meet client requirements in terms of cost, quality and reliability.
Our core business is the investigation, risk assessment and treatment of contaminated soil and waters. Many of the challenges encountered in quantifying and characterising the risks from subsurface contamination remain at the leading edge of current understanding. In the case of historical contamination, such challenges are often compounded by natural processes taking place over decades, and the lack of historical regulation. With many years experience, our team are experts in negotiating overcoming such challenges via the most efficient means available.
We also assist clients in the areas of pollution prevention and control, and in developing environmental, energy and quality management systems. The scientific principles and methods that we use assessing and resolving legacy issues also form the basis for much modern regulation of industrial emissions and pollution incidents. Environmental fate, behavior and risk assessment methods are applied within a range of such regulatory frameworks. In this context, these are often carried out proactively rather than retrospectively, to enable suitable measures to be put in place and prevent future environmental degradation. Our work is always carried out in line with current best practice standards and prevailing regulation. Through a network of trusted associates we are also able to assemble project teams for the delivery of complex projects requiring a broad spectrum of expertise relating to the natural and built environments.
I joined the workforce at the first opportunity in 1997, but by 2001 a penchant for technical challenges brought me back to the classroom to study HNC Civil Engineering. My return to full-time work coincided with the rapid development of the land remediation industry as we know it today. The heady days of the early and mid 2000s meant there was no shortage of opportunity for a willing and able young project manager, and I found myself involved with a range of remediation projects and to a lesser extent, Section 38 works.
Whilst the oft-favoured remediation solution in those days was dig and dump, more innovative and sustainable methods of treatment developed in tandem with advances in site investigation and risk assessment methods. My interest in these challenges again led me back into education for the completion of a Master’s degree dedicated to the risk assessment and remediation of contaminated land.
Although Part 2A had in 1990 set out the legal framework for dealing with contaminated land in England, the responsibilities it placed on the regulators were not made legally binding. However, the Contaminated Land Statutory Guidance issued in 2000 set out how Part 2A should be implemented in practice, and vested legally binding responsibility for its enforcement with local authorities. This obliges the local authorities (and in the case potential special sites or groundwater contamination, the Environment Agency) to inspect sites that ‘likely’ (rather than possibly, as in significant possibility of significant harm) meet Part 2A’s legal definition of contaminated land. It also gives them powers to bring enforcement action and/or recover the costs of remediation under relevant circumstances.
At this point, Part 2A and the Statutory Guidance may begin to sound like instruments of terror to be wielded over the holders or developers of contaminated land. In fact, the truth is in many ways quite to the contrary, because Part 2A is founded upon the suitable for use, or risk based approach. Rather than requiring the complete removal of contamination as was previously the case, Part 2A is concerned with ensuring that individual instances of land contamination do not pose unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.
In essence, the existence of any contamination is of secondary concern, so long as it can be demonstrated that this does not pose an unacceptable risk human health or the environment. The assessment of such risks in the context of current or proposed use, has enabled beneficial reuse of substantial tracts of land that may otherwise have lay redundant for decades.
Although many authorities had already taken ownership of their Part 2A responsibilities before 2000, these efforts were largely constrained by funding availability. The recent reductions in availability of Defra funding for local authorities through the Contaminated Land Capital Grants Scheme marks a return to similar circumstances. From 2000 funding of around £20 million was available, with precipitous declines beginning from the 2005/2006 period. As of writing, an ’emergency fund’ of just £0.5 million is being made available, and complete withdrawal of funding expected after 2017.
Given our rich industrial heritage and historical ignorance to the scale and impacts of pollution, establishing the true quantity of contaminated land within our borders was never truly feasible. Recent developments have muddied the waters somewhat further, raising questions as to how all this will be achieved/financed.
However, the vast majority of site investigation and remediation continues to be undertaken voluntarily during the redevelopment process. The National Planning Policy Framework simply cites Part 2A’s suitable for use approach for ensuring any proposed site use does not result in risks to human health or the environment.
This should mean although local authority powers of enforcement under Part 2A remain crucial in ensuring harmful pollution is properly addressed, it will be less crucial in the large scale clean up of our industrial legacy and bringing much needed land back into beneficial use. That said, where the ‘Class A liability group’ can be identified, the polluter pays principle within Part 2A many enable recovery of remediation costs. In the event that the polluter cannot be traced, the legislation identifies current land owners as the ‘Class B liability group’, meaning they may equally find themselves liable for remediation costs. It seems likely that this aspect of Part 2A will continue to be explored by developers.