Finding alternative remediation solutions

New regeneration technologies now point the way forward to removing obstacles that currently stand in the way of planning. Craig Sillars of Churngold Remediation investigates.

While the government takes stock of its progress toward the goals of the Sustainable Communities plan, remediation specialists, consultants and developers are facing the real challenges posed by the implementation of the Landfill Directive. Millions of pounds of government funding has been set aside for the provision of more than 1,000,000 homes in the South East over the next 20 years and 60% are to be built on Brownfield land. But for all the commercial opportunities this appears to open up, an equal number of hurdles lie between the concept and the reality.

Risky business

The UK government has clearly stated its intentions for increasing housing stock and the focus is very much on re-use of existing or derelict sites. Brownfield development not only satisfies the Government s aims to increase affordable housing while maintaining greenbelt; it could easily be argued that it provides a more sustainable approach to building.

However, development of Brownfield land does not come without risks:

  • Operational associated with the treatment, containment or disturbance of contaminated material
  • Financial estimating the final cost of remediation is usually extremely difficult; and you re probably working to a lump sum contract

Under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Local Authorities (LAs) were initially given the responsibility to identify and remediate areas of contaminated land. However, this was never really a feasible option. With the risks associated, the costs exceeded LA budgets and with few commercial elements, there was little impetus for LAs to be proactive. Finding appropriate persons who had long since departed has not proven viable and it does not help when the authorities themselves were the holders and polluters of many of the contaminated land sites, particularly old authority landfills.

In some instances Regional Development Agencies, English Partnerships and Local Authorities can offer a variety of grants to developers to pay for clean up in otherwise economically unviable areas. However, there are limits to the funds available and conditions under which developers can and can t apply for grants.

In any case it has become apparent to the regulatory authorities that developers looking to build on brownfield land, can undertake all the necessary remediation through the planning process, which is a far better route to take for clean up.

In order to get through the planning process the developer must satisfy the regulatory authorities that they have an effective strategy in place to clean up the site. All money spent on the planning application by the developer is essentially risk money until planning permission is forthcoming. This places a hurdle to the development of brownfield land and the implementation of the Landfill Directive has magnified this issue as the cost of determining the out-turn cost for the remediation will have significantly increased the cost of the site investigation in order to obtain this data.

The Landfill Directive

The Landfill Directive, which came in to force on July 16th 2004 banned the co-disposal of hazardous and non hazardous waste, forcing landfill sites to opt to take one or the other. The outcome of this is that the opportunity to dispose of hazardous wastes has decreased dramatically and the price of disposal has risen from 7-fold to 10-fold with associated rises in remediation costs where traditional dig and dump is still considered.

The new cost of dig and dump can put some owners of contaminated land in a negative equity situation. Where the cost of clean-up exceeds the value of the land, owners are left in dire straits as neither the development nor the resale of land are viable options.

The Landfill Directive has changed the way that remediation companies address a site and the processes involved in designing a remediation strategy. Teething troubles for companies making the transition from dig and dump to alternative clean up strategies were inevitable. However, the current grey area surrounding the classification of waste is posing remediation companies with a significant challenge in terms of costing and planning for jobs. The cost differentiation between the disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste is now vast meaning risks are higher on the commonly requested lump sum contract. The necessity for detailed site investigations are now at a premium as without the necessary contaminant profiles costing the remediation project itself becomes a challenging exercise.

A positive outlook

There are however, always solutions to problems.

Although the exact implications of the new legislation were not known, we have been aware of its arrival for several years. Anticipating the decline of dig and dump has encouraged remediation companies to broaden their outlook and embrace alternative methods of clean up. At Churngold, we have been both developing and applying a range of alternative technologies for a number of years – including biological, physical, chemical and thermal techniques to treat contaminated land and groundwater. We have taken a strategic approach to our focus and capabilities and taken on staff from as far afield as the oil industry, process engineering and wastewater treatment sectors. By expanding our knowledge, capability and skills base in line with the increase in demand for alternative efficient and cost effective clean-up solutions, we are now in a strong position to be able to meet the demands of the marketplace that will come out of this Directive.

It is hoped that new technologies can bridge the gap to make the development of brownfield land both accessible and commercially viable, by increasing the options for both in-situ and ex-situ clean up. The speed of dig and dump is what has been lost but this could be re-placed by soil treatment centres where hazardous contaminated soils are taken off site immediately to the centre for pre-treatment down to non-hazardous levels prior to haulage and disposal to a non-hazardous landfill site or to the few stable non-reactive hazardous cells that are being licensed. The immediate removal of the most contaminated waste allows the development to proceed as rapidly as before.

However, at the moment the messages coming from the regulatory authorities regarding contaminated land are mixed. Developers are simultaneously being encouraged to develop and prevented from doing so. While remediation specialists can do nothing as regards the majority of planning issues, as long as they continue to innovate and find ways around the hurdles to effective clean up, developers will still be able to afford to look at brownfield regeneration and the government s ambition for sustainable communities might still become a reality.

For further press information, images or an interview with Craig Sillars, please contact IMS PR consultancy: 0117 9293041, [email protected]

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