HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc887-8
6. Mr. Clifton-Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of whether the liabilities for cleaning up contaminated land are too onerous for developers to carry out; and what is the effect on revitalising urban redevelopment.

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

We have carried out a review of responsibilities for dealing with land contamination in which we consulted with a large number of landowners, developers, investors and others. One of the key objectives was to ensure that land was brought back into beneficial use. Our suitable-for-use policy requires action to clean up land only where contamination poses unacceptable actual or potential threats to health or the environment and where there are appropriate and cost-effective means so to do.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that there must be a balance between the private and the public sectors in the costs of cleaning up contaminated land? Therefore, should not the suitable-for-use principle be upheld and the Environment Bill amended to incorporate the common law provisions that have existed in this country for centuries? Should not the conveyancing system be modernised so that it is perfectly clear to all those who might buy potentially contaminated sites what their obligations will be under the new Bill?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject and I am sure that he will contribute substantially to the discussions on the Bill when it comes to the House from the other place. I assure him that his considerations and those of others with like concerns will be taken into great account when the Bill is discussed.

Mr. Dafis

Is the Minister aware that a Welsh Office report has shown that there are 76 former gasworks sites in Wales where the land is seriously contaminated, including one site in my constituency? The local authority is finding it difficult to obtain any information on that matter. Will the Government agree to an amendment to the Gas Bill to enable information to be made available to the public about the level of contamination on former gas works sites? Could that not be achieved by making it a condition of the licence under the Gas Bill?

Mr. Atkins

There is quite a lot of gas production in Wales, of which the hon. Gentleman is a classic example. It is a matter for the Welsh Office, and I shall ensure that it is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's points.

Ms Ruddock


Mr. Hayes

This will be good.

Ms Ruddock

Yes, this will be good.

In his reply, the Minister said that there was a definition of actual harm. He clearly does not know that his colleagues in the other place have already amended the Government's Bill and introduced the qualification "significant". Is it not true that the Government do not know what to do about contaminated land and are having to choose between trying to don the green mantle and obliging their friends in the City?

Mr. Atkins

The trouble with the hon. Lady and the Labour Front Bench on this issue is that they are determined to ensure that industry—which is part and parcel of the problems of contamination and, equally, will be one of those that have to pay for it—has no part to play in the whole issue. We believe that it does and that balance is essential. When the Bill comes to the House, I am sure that the hon. Lady will be able to examine it in as much detail as she wants—and we will have every answer.

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