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A Brief History of the Scottish Contaminated Land Forum

Once upon a long time ago…an organisation known as Scottish Enterprise, following on from its previous incarnation as the Scottish Development Agency, was actively engaged in the purchase and development of vacant industrial and commercial sites across the land. The risks associated with contamination were even then, a recognised issue and were actively investigated and managed by the various regional development companies and monitored from Scottish Enterprise National (SEN) HQ in a rather tired old building in Bothwell Street, Glasgow. This work was enthusiastically assisted by a raft of small, medium and large consultancies, a small number of analytical laboratories (commercial and public sector) and even some regulators and lawyers.

It was noticed by a number of people that the vast majority of samples taken in the course of the aforementioned investigations were dispatched south of the border to a range of commercial laboratories for analysis. A plot was hatched between Messrs John Gould, Iain Hart (both SEN) and Professor George Fleming (Strathclyde University / Centre for Environmental Management Studies) to arrest and divert this flow towards more local resources, laboratories in Scotland that were ready and willing to both analyse the samples and discuss the implications of the results. To counter perceptions that Scottish laboratories were somehow inferior to facilities elsewhere, SEN backed the formation of a group to look in depth at the analysis of contaminated land samples and to discuss the wider issues surrounding the management of contaminated land – some time in 1995 the Scottish Contaminated Land Analytical Forum (SCLAF) was born, the natural acronym ultimately outliving its parent organisation in spoken form at least!

Under the banner of SCLAF, with financial and practical backing from SEN, a number of sub-groups were formed, laboratories, consultants, possibly even contractors – but that may have come later. Round Robin testing of standard samples was conducted to demonstrate the capabilities of local laboratories and to highlight some of the analytical nuances of soil and dirty water analysis. Sub-group meetings were held in offices across the Central Belt, with regular main Forum meetings held in the aforementioned SEN HQ. It quickly became apparent that there was much more to contaminated land than just the analysis of samples (important though that is no doubt). A very wide range of professionals were attending the meetings and ambitious plans for widening the scope of the organisation were drawn up, culminating in the birth (more evolution really) of the Scottish Contaminated Land Forum (SCLF – pronounced Sclaf!), 1996ish. Although continuing to receive financial support from SEN, the organisation had a formal freestanding Constitution and a Business Plan, and was looking to become self-funding and wholly independent. SCLF also started to run events that generated some income in their own right and charged a membership fee to cover the costs of meetings and the management and promotion of SCLF.

SCLF has from the start been run by a large elected Executive Committee and headed up by a string of high profile Chairmen such as (using historical affiliations) Professor George Fleming of Strathclyde University, Mr John Dunbar of Crouch Hogg and Waterman, Professor Simon Pollard of Aspinwall & Co., Mr Donald Reid of Morton Fraser, Mr Peter Dowswell of Scottish Water, Mr Alex Hardie of Bodycote Laboratories, Mr Dave Cooke of Jacobs Babtie and Mr John Curran of Soilutions, before the Forum eventually moved to begin the redressing of obvious (but honestly not deliberate) gender bias with the election of Paula Coopland to the Chair at the end of 2012. The Executive also included a number of invited observers who have diligently and usefully contributed to the Forum over the years, including particularly Hugh Flowers, Glasgow University, and a number of representatives from SEPA. The EA actually sent observers to many of the early meetings too and formal Scottish Enterprise support continued well into the mid-noughties.

Regular Forum gatherings were initially held in the SEN HQ, but following demolition of that building, Forum meetings became something of a movable feast, popping up everywhere from the Tramway Theatre in deepest Southside Glasgow to SEPA’s offices in Aberdeen and including Falkirk, Linlithgow and Stirling. Some meetings were even held in Edinburgh in case some sort of West Coast bias was suspected. The meeting attendance lists (hard copy only, currently lurking in the Glasgow offices of ERS) really do provide an insight into the breadth and level of interest in contaminated land across public and private sectors coincident with the introduction and establishment of the “Contaminated Land Regime”. The Forum also organised technical training courses on ConSim and CLEA and a number of other one off seminars with invited speakers from across the UK, but focusing on local and affordable training and information sharing for the Scottish Contaminated Land community. The now well established SCLF Annual Conference is a notable and ultimate highlight of these activities.

It is fair to say that interest and attendance at the regular SCLF events has been up and down over the years, even to the point where questions were raised about the continued existence of the organisation. What has never been in doubt is the wide range of issues that continue to affect contaminated land in Scotland and the equally wide range of interested and impacted parties (dare I say stakeholders?!). For this reason, every time meeting attendances drop to unsustainably low levels, a quick trawl through the SCLF contacts list and a bit of encouragement results in renewed interest and attendance by the “body of the Kirk” as the redoubtable Harry Duncan (another Glasgow University SCLF Founder) would say.

There have been many changes in the field and personnel of contaminated land since the inception of SCLF but, thanks to the unstinting efforts of the Executive and numerous co-opted helpers, the Forum has always pressed on with the meetings, training and more recently, the SCLF Annual Conference. As long as these latter two offerings continue to be well attended and supported, SCLF is confidently looking forward to a 20th Anniversary get together sometime in 2015 (or should that be 2016)?!