Remediation of contaminated sites: An environmental perspective on brownfields regeneration and national strategies.

By Toby Willison, Head of Land Quality, Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency is the Government’s principal adviser on the environment. Our interest in the Government’s policies for regeneration of brownfield land and in the remediation of contamination upon such land reflects our role in:

  • protecting land, air and water quality, and securing water resources
  • ensuring waste is recovered and disposed of in ways that protect people and the environment, and maximise the beneficial use of resources
  • reducing the risk to people and the developed environment from flooding
  • regulating industry to protect air and water quality
  • maintaining fisheries and navigational waterways
  • conserving and enhancing wildlife and habitats

A national brownfield strategy
A national strategy for brownfields is currently being developed led by English Partnerships and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The total “stock” of such previously developed land has been estimated to be 66,000 hectares, yet of this only a few thousand hectares are brought back into productive use each year. Moreover, we continue to create brownfield at a rate similar to, if not in excess of, this rate of re-use. Any strategy must therefore address the reasons why land continues to remain unused or ill-used and for many sites this is likely to be the contamination left behind by those previous uses. Contamination which, to date, has proved unattractive and often uneconomic to deal with in the context of commercial redevelopment. We must recognise though, that these effects may be as much about (incorrectly ?) perceived risk as they may be about real technological needs.

Any strategyi must then encompass wider environmental and land use issues rather than simplistically focus on setting brownfield uptake or use targets across the country. In particular we should avoid setting targets or introducing new fiscal measures before we understand fully the effects that these will bring.

The role of the remediation industry in this is several fold:

  • Treatment performance (in terms of duration, cost and end-point) must become ever more certain.
  • The confidence that others have in this performance must continue to grow. Use of sound verification techniques and reporting will help and adherence to good practice through such things as Codes of Practice and Agency guidance is highly desirable. Industry must then reliably record these results and, where possible, make data available to make the process more open and transparent to all.
  • Realistic redevelopment goals are important in building the confidence above. The development and remediation industries must accept that for some sites environmental concerns may even be overwhelming.
  • Industry staff must therefore cultivate a better understanding of the regulatory aims and the processes involved.
  • Government and the Agency are keen to improve regulation (the “single remediation permit”) to be efficient for industry and ourselves. It is vital that industry though bodies such as EIC engage in this process in return.

A good quality environment is a key element in achieving the positive social and economic outcomes the Government desires “…making towns and cities vibrant and successful places where people will choose to live, and helping protect the countryside from development pressure.”ii . The Agency looks to the remediation industry to be full and professional partners in this.

This is a copy of a speech given by Toby Willison at the EIC conference at St Pancras on 25 June 2003.

i Cleaning up the past, building the future – a national brownfield redevelopment strategy for Canada ISBN 1-894737-05-9
ii John Prescott at the Urban Summit Oct/Nov 2002



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