Commentary: A self-inflicted U-turn on land

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Faced with the massed battalions of property developers and housebuilders, the Government appears to have backed down on its proposals for a national contaminated land register. Instead, it is likely to propose that developers submit with each planning application a statement on land quality, detailing remedial work required.

Local authorities could require such work to be carried out as a condition of granting planning approval, and the statements would be collected into a partial register.

The Government has only itself to blame for this latest U-turn. Its first proposal would have meant including dry cleaners and blacksmiths on the register, which would have ended up covering most of the country - including the Department of the Environment's Marsham Street headquarters.

Opponents claimed it would send house prices into a further downward spiral and make urban regeneration impossible.

Had the register been properly handled, much of the fuss about land blight would have died down - as the case of the Merry Hill shopping centre near Birmingham demonstrates. Last year, a US investor pulled out of a purchase because of concern about contamination. Earlier this week, it was sold for pounds 10m more after an investigation showed there was no problem. The Government was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.