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On 21 May 2014 the Commission formally withdrew its proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the protection of soil and amending Directive 2004/35/EC. Official Journal of the European Union
Soil protection makes environmental and economic sense for many reasons. Healthy soil is essential for food production, water quality, the wellbeing of humans and animals, construction, timber and biodiversity. It also helps soak up carbon for climate change mitigation.
The Commission adopted a Soil Thematic Strategy and a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive ('SFD') in September 2006 6 with the objective to protect soils across the EU. Soil Thematic Strategy
The UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria have remained firmly against the proposals since they formed a blocking minority in 2007. Farmers and industry who were against additional legislative controls over soil protection.
A particular concern was a proposed requirement on landowners to provide a soil status report when selling land. Defra argued that this would be costly and could have liability implications, given that the UK and other member states had existing contaminated land regimes.
Instead of imposing financial obligations on landowners, a new directive or other initiative could address the key issue of funding the remediation of contaminated land.
The Cohesion Fund and European Regional Development Fund has already paid millions of Euros to Hungary and the Czech Republic to help the rehabilitation of former industrial sites.
The European Commission Joint Research Centre has estimated that there are 2.5 million potential contaminated sites in Europe The State of Soil in Europe
There are an estimated 300,000 contaminated sites in England. In April 2014, Durham University produced a report that over 60,000 sites posed health risks to residents. Durham University Healthy Land?
Other factors such as flooding, development, landslides and soil degradation can impact soil quality. Food production is being jeopardised by the loss of two million tonnes of topsoil each year. Soil Association
It is back to the drawing board for the SFD text, however there will be a replacement.
The EU is committed to addressing the key objectives
In the 7th Environment Action Programme, member states agreed to ‘reflect as soon as possible on how soil quality issues could be addressed, using a targeted and proportionate risk-based approach within a binding legal framework’.
This article was first published in LexisPSL Environment on 27 May 2014.
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