Experts have warned that cuts to council funding to deal with contaminated land will undermine potential regeneration sites and heighten health risks.
From April 1 Defra will no longer support the costs of investigating and remediating contaminated land under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act.
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has written to the government warning that the withdrawal of dedicated funding will bring social, environmental and economic costs.
It said effective implementation of the Part IIA regime ‘is of vital importance to the health and wellbeing of people throughout England’.
People living near brownfield sites are ‘significantly more likely to suffer from poor health, including long-term illness’, it added.
The House of Commons environmental audit committee’s 2016 report on Soil Health highlighted evidence from a number of councils that their ability to undertake remediation of contaminated sites where the responsibility has defaulted to the local authority has effectively ceased due to lack of funding.
Local authorities will have a legal duty to inspect their area under the legislation, yet they will effectively no longer have the financial resources available to implement the rules, said CIWEM. Contaminated land officers ‘will have to make a case for funding to senior management, in a battle against other frontline services’.
Terry Fuller, the institution’s chief executive, said: ‘This is an austerity measure which will unfortunately impact on people’s health as well as on prospects for regeneration, often in areas that need it most.
‘We fear that where there is no commercial incentive for clean-up, these sites are likely to become blighted and unsaleable, causing ongoing health risks and environmental damage.
‘Local authorities have not necessarily tackled their most contaminated sites first, so across England there are still sites that may be affecting human health that have never been investigated.’
CIWEM is urging the government to reconsider its current position on grant funding.
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