Contaminated Land Round-Up 2004

The Landfill Directive and its wide ranging implications dominated the agenda for the contaminated land debate during 2004, with many warning that its introduction could lead to fly-tipping of toxic waste, extra business costs and a slow down of building on brownfield land.

Previously, contaminated soils could be dumped in landfill sites. However, under the new Directive, any substance containing asbestos, acids or pesticides (as most contaminated sites do) has to be treated as hazardous and so can no longer be included in most landfill sites.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) warned that the regulations would have huge implications for house building on brownfield sites in the country as soil would have to be remediated on site rather than simply dumped, leading to higher costs: “This is about as far from joined up government as you can get and developers, the housing market and the environment will suffer,” a spokesperson told edie in July. (See related story).

The spokesperson warned that small projects in particular, such as the redevelopment of gas works in former mill towns, would not go ahead, leading to a neglect of regeneration. He warned that the Government could miss its target of 60% residential development on brownfield land and would put more development pressure on greenfield sites.

In anticipation of such dilemmas, the Government launched the Land Restoration Trust with the aim of restoring 10,000 hectares of brownfield land across the country (see related story) with the first three being former coalfields in the English Partnerships National Coalfields Programme.

Indeed, later in the year, John Prescott announced a huge wave of investment in the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, taking its total funding to over £150 million (see related story).

To quell any further criticism, the Government also announced that more houses had been built on brownfield land than ever before (see related story) with figures showing 67% of all new dwellings being built on brownfield compared to 56% the previous year.

The Environment Agency also launched a web-based service called the Contaminated Land Exposure Assessment to help technical staff dealing with land contamination issues (see related story), closely followed by another from CIRIA (see related story).

In contrast to the negative ‘doom and gloom’ approach of many in the remediation and construction industries, Craig Sillars of Churngold said that remediation companies should look at alternative technologies for the in-situ and ex-situ remediation. In an article written especially for edie news Mr Sillars said he had been working with experts from fields as diverse as the oil industry, process engineering, and wastewater treatment, using techniques such as biological, physical, thermal and chemical to treat contaminated land and groundwater (see related story).

Award winning solutions to in-situ remediation were also provided by Dr. Jeremy Birnstingl of Regenesis, who proposed a series of methods that would remediate the soil while leaving all activity above ground undisturbed (see related story).

In addition, Dr. Rob Fuller of Southern Water explained how in-depth sampling and analysis could minimise risk and cost to developers, while ensuring that correct remediation methods were then used (see related story).

Despite the various objections that industry had to the contaminated land regulations and the obstacles some felt they posed, by the end of the year the Environment Agency announced that many companies were cleaning up their contaminated land holdings voluntarily rather than requiring application for formal regulation (see related story).

Far and away the biggest brownfield development strategy in Europe is the planned Thames Gateway Strategy, which aims to regenerate the largest area of derelict land in Europe, extending from Tower Bridge eastwards to Thurrock and Dartford.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this for many is the planned London 2012 Olympic Bid which aims to permanently regenerate the most polluted site in the Capital and create the largest urban park in Europe for the past 150 years (see related story). In addition, the bid plans to be the ‘greenest’ ever, with a prestigious use of renewable technologies.

Speaking at an event to mark the release of London 2012’s detailed plans for the bid, Mayor Ken Livingstone said the Olympic effect was already benefiting the capital: “Government has given the go-ahead to the East London Line extension, DLR extensions, Silverlink and other major projects. If we win the Games we will see the transformation of the most neglected part of our city. The Lower Lea Valley will be revitalised, with the biggest new park for over 200 years, cleaned up waterways, reclaimed land, new walkways and land bridges linking the area into London, thousands of new affordable homes, and a legacy of facilities for the community and sport.”
He added that the Games would kick-start regeneration through creation of new jobs across the capital, from hospitality and construction to the “cutting-edge green industries that will make our Games the most environmentally sustainable yet.”

Whether the bid can become a reality remains to be seen. What is certain, is that, should we get the games, London will certainly ‘clean up’.

By David Hopkins

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