The Government is maintaining its commitment to regenerating brownfield land despite having fallen foul of the European Commission which ruled that the UK’s Partnership Investment Programme breached State aid rules.

Hilary Armstrong, Minister for Local Government and the Regions at the DETR, commented: “The Government attaches a high priority to the physical regeneration of contaminated or derelict land and buildings and is determined to find a new way of delivering the type of projects which had previously been supported by the Partnership Investment Programme.”

The Minister said that the Government was “vigorously pursuing alternative approaches with the European Commission and I am confident that we will find a solution to this problem together.”

Transitional arrangements have been agreed to allow over 300 projects to go ahead.

In the last year PIP provided £200 million worth of support to projects, levering in £567 million of private investment, which together regenerated 1,300 ha of land, created or safeguarded 29,000 jobs, built 7,500 housing units, and created 860,000 m2 of industrial/commercial floorspace.

The Minister said: “We have allocated significant additional resources in the Spending Review 2000 to help compensate for the closure of PIP. Regional Development Agencies will receive an extra £60 million this year and an extra £150 million next year to start to deliver key Government and regional development targets.”

Pump-priming by the Government or other is the key to the regeneration of the UK’s massive legacy of contaminated land for which the Environment Agency concedes there is no reliable estimate, in terms of affected sites or the overall scale of the consequent problem.

The Agency, which plays a leading role in undertaking research into this area, through its National Groundwater and Contaminated Land Centre, estimates that some 300,000-plus hectares of land are affected, covering between 5,000 and 20,000 “problem” sites.

Success in former coalfields

Hilary Armstrong has reported a success in the regeneration of former coalfields areas, citing new research completed for the DETR. In many former coalfield areas the legacy of physical contamination and problems of physical access have been tackled effectively, with the Government regeneration agency, English Partnerships, playing a key role. But further regeneration needs to take place, the research concludes; whilst quality of life has improved for most, there are remaining health and education inequalities, and some of these issues are highly localised.

The local nature of some problems is underlined by the Environment Agency’s new Local Environment Agency Plan (LEAP) Action Plan for the Burton, Nuneaton and Tamworth area. One of the issues being considered is the risk of contaminated run-off from mining operations, both operating and closed, getting into controlled water courses.

Stimulus to research and development

Regeneration of contaminated sites is boosting research and development across a wide range of academic and industrial organisations and coming up with new solutions to remediate polluted land.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) recently completed a review of bioremediation research in the UK, in conjunction with EPSRC and NERC. Other public sector research sponsors involved in the review were the DTI, DETR and the Environment Agency. The purpose of the review was to assess current Research Council support for bioremediation and advise on the future direction of research and division of responsibility needed to ensure the support of first class science in this area and its exploitation in the UK’s national interest.

In the housebuilding sector, which has a key role to play in meeting the Government’s declared target of seeing 60% of all new housing being built on brownfield land, the Construction Industry Environmental Forum reports that the NHBC, which registers housebuilders, has introduced a Standard requiring developers to investigate both greenfield and brownfield sites.

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