Making best use of the nation’s scarce supply of land

By David Higgins, Chief Executive, English Partnerships.
English Partnerships is the national regeneration agency supporting high quality sustainable growth across the country. We are a key delivery agency for the urban renaissance and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Sustainable Communities Plan.

One of the key aspects of this plan is to ensure that we are making best use of the nation’s scarce supply of land. English Partnerships is also looking at mechanisms to bring contaminated land back into productive use as part of its wider brownfield land strategy. We have been given responsibility for producing and maintaining this strategy on behalf of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to ensure that as much new development as possible is accommodated on previously-developed land.

The government is committed to making the best possible use of its own property assets and through English Partnerships, a Register of Surplus Public Sector Land has been created in collaboration with the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), government departments and other public sector organisations. The Register will provide a single reference point for all participating public sector organisations and help to ensure that wider government objectives, including housing need and regional economic strategies, are factored into land disposal decisions.

Working in partnership with three other national organisations, the Land Restoration Trust is being established to restore and manage brownfield land for use as public green space. Many derelict or brownfield sites are not suitable for recycling as plots for housing or commercial development due to contamination, ground conditions or location. However, many do have huge potential as safe ‘green amenity’ sites such as woodland, parks, commons, nature areas and other public open spaces.

One of our most successful countrywide projects to date is the 10-year £385 million National Coalfields Programme. Since the programme began in 1996, significant progress has been made in addressing economic, environmental and social issues in former coalfield communities, which were characterised by huge job losses, contamination and dereliction following the pit closures of the 1980s and 1990s. The Programme will help to create new uses for around 4,000 hectares of former colliery/coking works land. In addition over 1/3 of the portfolio will be returned as public open space.

Further sites that exemplify our commitment to cleaning up heavily contaminated sites include the Greenwich Peninsula in London and Middlehaven in Middlesbrough. In 1997, English Partnerships began the task of transforming the Greenwich Peninsula – previously the site of the largest gas works in Europe – into a thriving, 21st Century community. Greenwich Peninsula is the largest development site in London and one of Europe’s biggest regeneration projects. Over £200 million has been invested by English Partnerships in acquiring, reclaiming and developing the Peninsula site and in 2001 we received an environmental award in recognition of our pioneering environmental work.

Middlehaven, a 80-acre former docks adjacent to Middlesbrough town centre, is a mixed-use regeneration project where English Partnerships is working in partnership with Middlesbrough Council, One Northeast and Tees Valley Regeneration. Following the recent completion of an £18 million reclamation and restoration contract for the dock basin and surrounding land, a regeneration site covering over 15 hectares has been prepared for commercial and residential development. The initial phase of the project is expected to comprise a new business park, exclusive waterside residential development and a range of community and leisure facilities.

We also support organisations such as CL:AIRE (Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments), a public-private partnership devoted to finding innovative solutions for dealing with contaminated land. Enabling cost-effective land remediation techniques to be tested under real site conditions, it acts as an important link for the UK´s main players in contaminated land reclamation. Through stimulating new partnerships and projects, and matching them with suitable sites, CL:AIRE can then achieve environmental objectives in its development and re-use of derelict, contaminated sites. In this way UK expertise and contaminated land technologies are brought to the fore.

Part of English Partnerships’ role as a national agency is to disseminate the lessons learned from our initiatives to inspire a better way of life for the communities we serve. By sharing our experiences of Best Practice in land de-contamination and remediation, we aim to make England a better place to live and limit the impact of building much-needed housing on our precious countryside.

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