HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc195-6
3. Mr. Dowd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to ensure that the owners of contaminated land make that information available to the public. [17906]

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)

The contaminated land provisions in part II of the Environment Bill include proposals for local authorities to inspect their areas to identify contaminated land, to assess the seriousness of the contamination using guidelines to be set out by the Secretary of State, and taking into account the advice of the Environment Agency, to decide what should be done by way of remediation.

Mr. Dowd

Does the Secretary of State agree that if green-field and green-belt sites are to be protected from development, we need better to use brown-field and redevelopment sites, and that gaining public confidence in that redevelopment by fully disclosing information is instrumental in achieving that? Leaving aside the Government's historic bias towards commercial interests over the public interest, are the Government so unworthy of trust that they are unprepared to trust the people with the information?

Mr. Atkins

I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to bring contaminated or brown land back into the development cycle. That is why we have coined the phrase "suitable for use" which we talked about yesterday in the debate on the Environment Bill. I expect that in due course the hon. Gentleman and I will find out the extent of that in Committee. The point is surely that those who have caused the problem, either currently or in the past, or those in the same sort of market, are the ones who need to spend the money to rectify the problem. To allay the concerns of the insurance industry, the banks, and so on, we need to ensure that they believe that "suitable for use" means just that.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about public registers, powers in the Environment Bill, which we discussed yesterday, will allow greater disclosure. In any case, local authorities have powers now to check and disclose details of contaminated land to those who are interested.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend agree that, consequent on the proposals contained in the draft legislation which was before the House yesterday for Second Reading, it is likely that purchasers and others interested in developing a property will be able to gain the information that they require from normal conveyancing inquiries as well as from the usual inquiries with the local authorities?

Mr. Atkins