The National Quality Mark Scheme for Land Contamination Management

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As many will know, the NQMS was launched by the Land Forum in January 2017. It is administered for the Land Forum by CL:AIRE. It is a system designed to ensure that land contamination management work meets necessary technical and regulatory standards. It applies in particular to the presentation of environmental information to the regulators in the form of reports setting out both factual and interpretative information.

Reports are prepared in line with good practice and signed off by a suitably qualified and experienced person (SQP) registered under the NQMS who ensures that:

• The work has been planned, undertaken and written up by competent people who have relevant experience and/or qualifications in their respective disciplines.
• The underlying data has been collected in line with established good practice procedures and its collection has been subject to control via established quality management systems.
• The data has been processed, analysed and interpreted in line with established good practice and any specific advice provided by the relevant regulatory authorities or regulatory bodies.
• The reports set out recommendations or conclusions that are substantiated by the underlying data and are based upon reasonable interpretations.
• Any limitations in the data or uncertainties in the analysis are clearly identified along with the possible consequences of such limitations.

The scheme is voluntary and has been designed to operate alongside and within existing quality management systems. It has the support in principle of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Environment Agency (EA).

The Environment Agency in particular, fully support the scheme and have a position statement (J9) in the land contamination section of their principle groundwater protection document: The Environment Agency’s approach to groundwater protection (GP3)
In providing a Quality Mark to reports, the aim is to provide assurances to problem holders and regulators alike that land contamination issues have been adequately managed. The intention is to help speed up regulatory permissions or decisions on regulatory compliance resulting in savings to both public and private sector participants.

The scheme applies to;
• Desk Studies/Preliminary Risk Assessments
• Site Investigations, Generic or Detailed Quantitative Risk Assessments
• Remedial Options Appraisals, Remediation Strategies
• Remediation Verification and Monitoring Reports
• Or a combination thereof.

Although the NQMS can be applied to the management of land contamination under a range of regulatory regimes, its primary focus is to improve the quality of work done to manage land contamination under the Town and Country Planning System. However, it could also be applied to Part 2A, environmental permitting, pollution incidents and enforcement actions.

The SQP Provider is the organisation which examines the capabilities of prospective SQPs and compiles a register of their details. This role is currently carried out on behalf of the Land Forum by SiLC (Specialist in Land Condition Register). There are two routes whereby an individual can become an SQP. Someone who is already a registered SiLC can take an on-line Conversion Course which leads to an on-line multiple choice exam. If the required marks are achieved, the person will be registered as an SQP in addition to being a SiLC. For someone who is not a SiLC and has the required expertise and experience, they can apply via examination and interview to become both SiLC and SQP. There are currently 84 registered SQPs and 194 registered SiLCs. Those SiLCs who have not yet taken the on-line conversion course are encouraged to do so. The more SQPs there are to fulfil the need, the more inclined clients will be to specify a requirement for an SQP so that declarations can be submitted for the reports that relate to their project.

The scheme works by the SQP making a Declaration, registered with CL:AIRE, to confirm that the principles outlined above have been followed and they can certify that the work has been carried out by appropriately qualified people, that proper quality control procedures have been followed and that the recommendations given and conclusions drawn, including uncertainties, are appropriate and can be justified by the data on which they are based.

There are currently 17 Declarations that have been registered with CL:AIRE. There should be many more. For the scheme to gather momentum, more clients need to be made aware of the scheme and the benefits. SQPs are the ambassadors that can achieve this. A client will not request that a Declaration be made unless they know about the scheme and can see the benefits. So, SQPs – educate your clients, generate interest, and thereby make the scheme work. You have put in the effort to become an SQP, now make it worthwhile.

The potential benefits of this scheme are enormous. It is not intended to remove the need for regulatory scrutiny. However, the purpose is to enable regulators to spend less time and resources on reports which have a Quality Mark thereby enabling them to concentrate more of their time on those reports which do not have this quality designation. The benefits to a developer are less potential for delay in the approval of land condition reports as part of the planning process.

For the scheme to be more widely used there needs to be greater awareness of the scheme within regulatory organisations, within client organisations such as developers and generally within the contaminated land community.

Obviously, the NQMS is in its early stages and still needs to prove that it does result in improved standards. The Land Forum are in the process of developing an audit process and SiLC have prepared a disciplinary procedure to deal with any complaint that an SQP has not followed the Code of Conduct. In due course the EA will be doing their own audit and will be sharing the results with the Land Forum. It is anticipated that by these means confidence in the NQMS can be established.

Some of the words in this article rely heavily on the documents on the CL:AIRE website. Where comments and observations are made which are not on the CL:AIRE website, these are the thoughts of the authors of this article. Please visit the CL:AIRE website for further information.

Roger Clark, Marlowclark Consulting Limited
Angela Haslam, Environment Agency
Phil Fitzgerald, Environment Agency

This article was featured in the January/February issue of the AGS Magazine, which can be viewed here.