Homeowners face massive bills for other people's pollution

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The Independent Online

Householders will be forced to clean up contamination of their land that occurred long before they bought their houses, under new regulations to be unveiled tomorrow.

Householders will be forced to clean up contamination of their land that occurred long before they bought their houses, under new regulations to be unveiled tomorrow.

And if they fail to carry out the expensive purge of pollution, they will be liable to pay fines running into many thousands of pounds.

The measure, which is expected to hit thousands of unsuspecting families living in houses built on old industrial sites, is part of an unprecedented drive to find and clean up the country's contaminated land.

Ministers are hailing it as a "historic step" that tackles a 200-year-old legacy of dangerous pollution.

Nobody knows how much of Britain's land is contaminated: One estimate puts it at about 1 per cent of the country. There are thought to be 400,000 old industrial sites and 275,000 abandoned rubbish tips in Britain - and half the nation's housing is now built on recycled land.

Under the new rules - which were originally drawn up by the last Conservative government and have been delayed because of opposition from land owners and developers as well as resistance by civil servants - councils will be legally obliged to identify land in their areas that endangers human health and the environment. They must then ensure that it is cleaned up, either voluntarily or perforce.

When the firm that originally caused the pollution can be identified - and still exists - it will be responsible for cleaning the land up, but where it cannot be, as is often the case, the owners of the land - including householders - will have to pay.

This can be enormously expensive. Last year David Harrison, a 54-year-old builder, was digging the foundations for a new conservatory at his home in Hedon, near Hull, when he came across a huge pit of tar buried in his back garden: he later discovered his house had been built on the site of an old gas works.

It cost him £80,000 to clean up the mess, more than the value of his house: he had to spend all his life savings and take out a £40,000 mortgage to pay for the work.

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