Brownfield sites in the spotlight

The regeneration of brownfield sites has moved up the political agenda in the new Millennium with new guidance on cleaning up contaminated land coming into force in April, and with moves being initiated at national and devolved government level to locate and register polluted land, plus the more recent confirmation of a target to ensure that, by 2008, 60% of additional housing should be provided on brownfield sites. This month LAWE reviews progress on reclaiming contaminated land and reports on the application of remediation technology.

The major move this year by the Government to deal with the blight of the UK’s vast, but unquantifiable, legacy of polluted sites, was the introduction of new statutory guidance to local authorities in England and the Environment Agency designed to implement Part IIA of the EPA 1990.

The statutory guidance covers the definition, identification and remediation of contaminated land, the exclusion from, and apportionment of, liabilities for remediation, and the recovery of the costs of remediation.

Funding this new responsibility and providing the skills and resources needed to monitor contaminated land in their areas is a major burden for local government, although the Government has made some additional provision to fund site investigation and remediation. Environment Minister Chris Mullin announced in April that £21 million would be allocated in 2000/2001 for the continuation of the Contaminated Land Supplementary Credit Approval (SCA) to provide support to English local authorities. The Environment Agency also receives a grant in respect of its new duties for contaminated land that are designated as “Special Sites” under Part IIA.

The Agency, while conceding that no there is no reliable estimate of the number of contaminated sites in the UK, or the scale of the consequent problem, has ventured the estimate that some 300,000 plus hectares of land are affected, covering between 5,000 and 20,000 “problem sites.” This offers considerable scope for the Agency’s National Groundwater and Contaminated Land Centre, whose prime aim, in relation to land contamination, is to provide a centre of technical expertise.

Other Government initiatives in the regeneration field include a new service on the National Land Use Database (NLUD) website, through which the locations of selected brownfield sites can be accessed. By June this year, information had been included for over 3,500 sites in 46 local authority areas.

In Wales, the National Assembly earlier this year appointed Hyder Consulting and Landmark Information Group to investigate the feasibility of building a system to monitor the supply and reuse of brownfield sites in the Principality.

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