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Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 228:

Page 46, line 3, leave out ("a closed landfill site") and insert ("an area of contaminated land").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 228 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 235 and 236 in my name and Amendments Nos. 228ZA and 233B in the names of my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Mills.

The purpose of my amendments is similar to the purpose of the amendments of my noble friends but they relate to a wider issue, namely the treatment of landfill sites under the contaminated land provisions. Amendment No. 228 and its consequential amendments relate specifically to seriously contaminated sites.

Looking at the Bill as drafted, what are we to make of the curious phenomenon of "special sites"? Those special sites will only ever be closed landfill sites. However, the statistics which were presented to a parliamentary inquiry by the Department of the Environment in 1989 show that landfill sites are by no means the major constituent of contaminated land. Landfill sites account for just under 25 per cent. of contaminated land. An equivalent number of sites are spoil heaps from metal mines. What distinguishes closed landfill sites from those or old gasworks? My noble friend the Minister has not provided a satisfactory answer.

Landfill sites are subject to strict controls with respect to their initial location, preparation, operation, restoration and post-closure management. Since landfill sites will be regularly monitored by the operator until the agency is satisfied that harmful pollution is unlikely, one would think that of all the potentially contaminating uses of land, that is the least likely to cause problems, precisely because it is so regulated.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not suggest to the Committee that I am asking that landfill sites be treated more favourably than other contaminated land. Rather, I should like to see landfill sites—closed or otherwise—receive precisely the same treatment.

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I am worried that there is a hidden agenda here. If not properly maintained, closed landfill sites remain the subject of concern in the minds of the general public for some 20, 30 or 50 years. Quite rightly, the general public have exercised their rights to demonstrate, complain and lobby about matters which give them some concern. I suspect that they will be giving themselves the opportunity to demonstrate about the gas sites which are proposed to be sold to the public. No one knows too much about the level of their contamination.

I must ask my noble friend to give a better reason why a closed landfill site, decreed to be contaminated until such time as it is given a clearance certificate, should be treated any differently from any other contaminated land. The group of amendments follows that reasoning.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, will speak to one of the amendments in his name and in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. It is grouped with the amendment. If so, I should like to hear what he has to say because I wish to respond to it.

Viscount Mills: Although I support in principle the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, it is similar to amendments which my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and I propose in Amendments Nos. 228ZA and 233B. I believe that the deletion of all reference to closed landfill sites, and hence the need to prepare remediation statements for all contaminated land sites, is not necessary. I consider that a broadening of the definition of "special site" would be adequate and would focus resources on those sites which are most contaminated and therefore most likely to cause pollution.

Like my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I had in mind such sites as closed chemical, steel or gas works which can cause equally as serious harm or pollution as closed landfill sites. The amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and my amendment—

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount. I hope that he will not feel that he has to go over the ground that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has already covered. I had hoped that he would speak to his Amendment No. 245AB.

Viscount Mills: I shall do so, of course. As I was saying, the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and my amendment allow such contaminated sites to be designated as special sites and treated accordingly. Perhaps I may ask the Minister this question. Will it not assist the local authorities to deal with those other contaminated land sites by broadening the definition of special sites as proposed?

I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 245AB. I believe that the amendment highlights a specific problem. I hope to ascertain what the Government consider might be done to solve it. There is an inherent difficulty with the enforcement procedures with respect to contaminated land. I refer to contaminated land sites which are owned by local authorities. Those include

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both closed landfill and land which is to be used for redevelopment. In certain situations local authorities are required to serve remediation notices upon themselves. That includes setting out actions and the timetable for those actions to be carried out.

I am sure that most local authorities are active and responsible and have all the technical skills and expertise to deal with those contaminated land sites. However, I believe that other small rural district councils may not be staffed to deal with the complex problems that arise from pollution emanating, for example, from 19th century lead mines. That is not a criticism; it is merely a fact.

In those cases, it may be of assistance to the local authorities for the new agency to play a role. At this point I should like to make what I believe is an important distinction between derelict land and contaminated land, because the experience required to deal with the two is not the same. By way of example I should like to refer to a coke works in Nottinghamshire. The land on which an old coke works was situated was purchased by a local council, which extracted the top few meters of sand and capped the surface to prevent the flushing of further contaminants into the groundwater. However, no action was taken to protect already polluted groundwater, which has now spread out from the area of the site itself and lies in land adjacent to the original site. In a situation such as that the site was treated as derelict but I suggest that it was rather more contaminated land.

There is, I believe, a risk that local authorities could find themselves in a position where, through no fault of their own, they are unable to initiate an adequate programme of inspection, identification and remediation of contaminated land sites. In such cases, giving default powers to the agency to help deal with the problem may be one, but I suggest not the only, solution. However, I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply—whether he considers that it is a problem, whether the Government recognise it as such and how they intend to deal with similar problems.

10 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I shall speak only to Amendment No. 245AB which is in the group and which the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has just addressed. We are strongly opposed to the amendment. We believe that it is unnecessary because, despite what the noble Viscount implied, local authorities have a good record in the remediation of contaminated land. It is a threat to local democracy and we do not feel that an agency like the one outlined in the Bill should override local authorities and charge a levy in order to do so. A national quango, working through regional offices, is simply not the body to override local authorities. The agency is best placed to work with local government in determining appropriate standards. It is not, cannot and should not be placed to undertake the work itself. We are strongly opposed to the amendment which the noble Viscount has addressed.

Viscount Ullswater: All the amendments would affect the role of the environment agency and the

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Scottish environment protection agency in respect of the contaminated land provisions. Amendment No. 228, moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the broadly equivalent Amendment No. 228ZA, moved by my noble friend Lord Mills, would have the effect of changing the definition of a "special site" such that it need not necessarily be a closed landfill site. Other amendments in the group are consequential on that.

The intention behind the creation of this category of special sites was to ensure that the particular skills and professional expertise of the agency could be brought directly to bear on the most serious closed landfill sites. The limiting of the category of special sites to closed landfills was not meant to imply either that closed landfills necessarily presented risks of serious harm or pollution or that other categories of site were by definition not serious. But closed landfill sites present a particular range of technical and engineering problems on which staff in the agency are likely to be well qualified by virtue of their responsibilities for the regulation of operational landfills.

So while the Government are willing to consider the question of expanding the range of sites which could potentially be designated as special sites, we would wish to have a clear idea of why the agency would be better qualified to regulate those other sites than would the local authorities. At present, the case has not been adequately made, and we would wish to retain the restriction of designation as special sites to landfills.

Amendment No. 245AB, moved by my noble friend Lord Mills, would seek to expand the powers of the agency in altogether more sweeping ways by enabling it to take over the regulatory functions of individual local authorities if it felt that they were not being properly exercised. Local authorities already have powers under the statutory nuisance provisions under Part III of the Environmental Protection Act to deal with the problems posed by contaminated land and many of them have used those powers extensively. We believe that these new provisions, which provide specific definitions of targeted procedures, will do much to improve the consistency with which local authorities deal with contaminated land. We strongly believe that these regulatory functions should remain with local government—I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on that point. Contaminated land is essentially a local issue, and these powers tie in closely with other local authority functions, in particular those concerning planning and development control.

In any event, I remind the Committee that local authorities will have the assistance of detailed guidance from the agency and the Secretary of State in carrying out their functions. I do not believe that there is any justification for including powers of the kind suggested in the amendment, which would allow the agency to take over the functions and the money of an elected

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local authority. I hope that I have perhaps said enough to persuade both noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

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