Standards of protection for housing on contaminated land at risk

Publication Date: 10th July 2014

Subject: Housing

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has warned its members to beware attempts to reduce the protection offered to occupiers of new houses built on former industrial sites.

Whereas many such sites are being redeveloped for housing and it is not practicable to remove all the risks of past contamination, until now, local councils have sought to minimise those through planning conditions. Following the recent publication by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of new recommendations1 for clean-up, however, some developers are now pressing them to relax standards.

In a statement released today2, the CIEH reiterates concerns previously expressed privately to Defra about the use of so-called `Category 4 Screening levels` (`C4SLs`). Claimed originally by the department to be to help local authorities identify contaminated land, a `Policy Companion Document` issued at the end of March has since made it clear they are intended for use in the redevelopment of contaminated sites.

`The difference is significant` said CIEH Principal Policy Officer Howard Price, `instead of merely providing a step in a process of investigation, the new contaminant soil concentrations tell developers how far, in Defra`s opinion, they need to remediate sites to make them suitable for use.`

`But not only is that a decision for local authorities, Defra has no role in planning policy either` added Mr Price. `More to the point, though, they represent higher levels of risk than local authorities aim for now, in the case of at least one widespread contaminant, ten times as much. That is just not acceptable. `

Underlying Defra`s recommendations, the CIEH points to a promise made by Defra three years ago `to support the Government`s growth agenda by removing excessive cost burdens on the house building sector` to the tune of up to £132M pa.

`The fact is`, concluded Mr Price, `Defra has bet its house on delivering the short-term savings it promised, regardless of the increased long-term risks. In the light of uncertainties about the toxicology of contaminants and about who might occupy new homes, we are calling on our members, their planning colleagues and responsible developers to maintain standards for the sake of public health.`


Notes for editors 

1. Development of Category 4 Screening Levels for Assessment of Land Affected by Contamination – Policy Companion Document (SP1010) Defra, March 2014


3. See Simplification of Contaminated Land Regime Impact Assessment, Defra, June 2011. Equal to over 70% of total savings expected from Defra`s Strategic Reform Plan, see Defra better for Business, April 2014

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About the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health: 

  • The CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved
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