Under the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT 1990 , local authorities have a duty periodically to survey their locality and, using guidance defined by the Secretary of State, to designate contaminated land as a special site, advising the EA or SEPA (ss.78B-78C). The authority, EA or SEPA must then serve a remediation notice on the appropriate person (s.78E).
Part IIA – Contaminated land
Contaminated land is “any land which appears to the local authority in whose area it is situated to be in such a condition, by reason of substances in, on or under the land, that” (s.78A):
- “Significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or
- Significant pollution of the water environment is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused.”
We knew that under this legislation that Sandwell MBC, which is the local authority that covers the site we are interested in , had completed a strategy for contaminated land in 2001. Unfortunately it was not publicly available on their website. Nor was there any way of knowing what resources they had put into tackling the major issue which has resource implications for everyone’s health and wellbeing in the borough.
The council’s site allocations delivery plan document sets out a ten year plan for provision of new housing and regeneration corridors upto 2021. This was adopted by the council in December 2012.
WHAT DID WE ASK AND WHAT DID THEY KNOW?
We asked the council the following questions to which they replied. The contaminated land strategy and the location plan refered to in the reply have been linked into their responses.
(i) Please provide by electronic means a full list of sites in Sandwell designated as “contaminated land” and an explanation of your inspection strategy for potentially contaminated sites and a list of these also. Please also provide a list of sites designated as
One site within the Borough has been designated as “Contaminated Land” under the Environmental Protection Act Part IIA. This relates to an area of land at Brades Rise, Oldbury Warley, West Midlands. (Please see attached location plan). This site is currently undergoing remediation as it is being redeveloped residential purposes.
A document detailing the Council’s approach to inspection of land is attached. (adopted by full Council in April 2001).
The Division does not hold a list of “potentially contaminated sites.” Please see attached strategy document and statutory guidance, which provide more detail on identifying sites for inspection.
No sites within Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council have been designated as “Special Sites.”
(ii) In the site allocations delivery development plan, do you intend to submit any potential areas set aside for housing development areas without having first carried out an assessment of such land as “contaminated land”, which could leave the council with significant future liabilities?
Therefore should the inspection strategy for identifying contaminated land come before such a document is put out for “public consultation”?
Sandwell Site Allocations and Delivery document (SAD) identifies sites suitable for development for a variety of uses, including housing and employment land. Prior to publishing the document for public consultation all sites were assessed based on suitability for a particular use, location, availability and viability. Site viability assessments take into account the amount of site remediation that is required prior to redevelopment.
In addition, The Council will not grant planning permission without being satisfied that appropriate site remediation measures are in place
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Only one site has been designated as “contaminated land” under Part II A of The Environmental Protection Act 1990. To gauge what level of site investigation has taken place by this council we asked another FOI request, which proved to be a long drawn out process that they did not want to answer.
The site in question forms a land border with the former Albright and Wilson Gower Tip. A plan of this land boundary supplied by the council in a seperate request can be seen HERE.
The council’s contaminated land strategy was not available online until we asked for it. It is now- so that everyone with an interest in this borough, especially those who live in it, (unlike many of the principal officers in the council), can start to question whether this strategy is competent enough 12 years after it had first been completed.
We do not agree that in the case of Rattlechain lagoon, which is of course “a special site” due to the waste that it contains, albeit not in name under the legislation, that allocating houses in the near future over its area represents a realistic viability assessment of the site.