Newlands takes on massive regeneration programme in the Northwest

England’s Northwest has as much as 25 per cent of England’s derelict land. Some of this land will be contaminated but the totality presents a marvellous opportunity for integrated social, economic and environmental regeneration. Now the ambitious Newlands project is set to play a part in helping the Northwest realise this opportunity by regenerating some of the derelict, and in part contaminated, land.

The £23 million Newlands project is the result of a ground-breaking partnership between the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) and the Forestry Commission, and is set to bring about huge physical change across the region. Areas blighted by decades of dereliction are to be regenerated with new community woodlands. These will act as the catalyst to improved economic performance, recreational facilities, local amenities, and health across the region.

Subsequent reports, most notably the Regional Economic Strategy, produced by the NWDA, highlighted the effect that this derelict, unused and neglected (DUN) land was having on inward investment into the region - there was a growing negative perception of the Northwest.

The partnership between the NWDA and the Forestry Commission has been heralded as a perfect example of how two Government agencies can work together. Duplication is reduced, a more coherent, intelligent strategy is implemented, and funding and expertise is pooled.

“There are several unique elements to Newlands,” as Helen France, NWDA Executive Director of Development and Partnerships, explains. “One of them is obviously the partnership element, the other is the comprehensive nature of the survey work that is being done."

“Newlands will identify the land and then, through its partnerships, source the funding to actually carry the work out.”

Central to the survey work is a staged investigation process developed by the Forestry Commission’s Land Regeneration Unit. This desk top study will be carried out on all the sites previously put forward for Newlands, and will play a large part in determining whether or not they remain part of the programme. Uniquely the studies will bring together all the different reports about a site, such as ecological surveys and contamination risk analyses, which previously would only be available as separate documents.

Once this research has been completed there are two specific ways in which Newlands can be employed to help deal with contaminated land.

In some cases, often with closed landfills sites, it’s impossible to redevelop the land. “This is the type of environment where there are contaminants in the ground but they aren’t causing a particular problem, yet the site is sterilised for any other use,” says France. “Newlands will tackle the problem, producing new attractive places that people want to visit.”

In other cases the cost of reclaiming the contaminated land for redevelopment is just too high. “Although we would still meet all the appropriate standards, the regulations for turning contaminated land into community woodland are not as extensive as those required to return it to industrial use, or into housing,” she continues.

“The land has been sterilised by the contamination but turning it into a community woodland could be a cost effective way of tackling the problem, and perhaps the only way of bringing that land back into meaningful use.”

But not all contaminated land is suitable for Newlands, and digging deeper may literally unearth a problem that is beyond the Newlands’ budget. In the past, despite the best attempts to make the polluter pay, these sites would have continued to waste away. But now Newlands offers a solution.

“Newlands isn’t a decontamination project. It has a much wider remit to tackle the problems of previously developed land that needs regeneration. Contamination is just one of the problems,” explains France. “Where Newlands comes across contamination that we can’t tackle then it will be passed on to specific agencies.”

However, rather than just handing over the land as may have been done in the past, it now comes with its own ready-made report, courtesy of the Newlands team. Within this there is an analysis of the risk involved in taking on the site, including a limited analysis of the existing contamination, gleaned from non-intrusive surveys.

Keith Jones, Forestry Commission Conservator for the Northwest explains: “Some sites are likely to be so contaminated that they are beyond Newlands. However, our comprehensive reports will still be made available to the local authority and/or the land owner, and the onus will be on them to act, probably by applying for Defra funding.”

“This can help solve many of the problems associated with contaminated land,” adds France, “as some of the agencies charged with dealing with it often have difficulty in finding the resources to carry out the initial testing. Now Newlands has done it for them.”

So what are the lessons other regions could learn? “Make sure that you have the correct people in your partnership,” says Jones, “and that includes the contaminated land officers from local authorities. It’s absolutely key. And make sure that as many people as possible know exactly what you are trying to do. In the early stages of Newlands people thought we were trying to de-contaminate the whole of the Northwest - an impossible feat given the budget. We’re not, we’ re tackling pockets. We’re making sites fit for purpose. But crucially we’re helping to reverse the environmental deficit.”

(1) ENDS 2000, Britain's Contaminated Land - Liabilities Put at £15 billion, ENDS Report 305, p4-5



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