Position statement (May 2003) setting out the Environment Agency's policy position on brownfield land redevelopment.
The Environment Agency is committed to bringing more land into sustainable use. Concentrating development on brownfield sites can help to make the best use of existing services such as transport and waste management. It can encourage more sustainable lifestyles by providing an opportunity to recycle land, clean up contaminated sites, and assist environmental, social and economic regeneration. It also reduces pressure to build on greenfield land and helps protect the countryside.
Brownfield land is often more expensive to develop than greenfield. Moreover, with the shifting patterns in population and demographics, the location of large amounts of brownfield land in the former industrial heartlands of the country matches poorly with the areas of highest current land demand in the south and south-east. The regulatory complexities of reclaiming some brownfield land may also be a barrier to new development.
Some brownfield and derelict land can represent important wildlife habitat, public green space or a core part of urban green networks. These are important in providing good quality of life, and brownfield reuse must strike an appropriate balance in the interests of sustainable development.
The Government's target of 60 per cent of new developments to be built on previously developed land and through through conversion of existing buildings has been met eight years ahead of schedule. The ease in meeting this national target suggests there may be potential to seek more appropriate regional targets that recognise the different economies of the Regions, and to promote the use of brownfield land for suitable sustainable uses rather than focus solely on building.
Many brownfield sites are former industrial sites and much of this land may be contaminated. As "point source" pollution of water is brought increasingly under control, impacts of diffuse pollution from sources such as brownfields will become more apparent. Continued improvement in, for example, water quality in the urban areas, will in part be dependent on managing the potential adverse impacts from large numbers of brownfield sites.
At the present time there is confusion concerning the treatment of flood risk when brownfield sites are redeveloped. Some planning guidance (PPG3) gives priority to brownfield redevelopment, while other guidance (PPG25) gives priority to development in low-risk flood areas.
It is expected that the area of land at risk of flooding will increase substantially by 2050 due to climate change. Areas of industrial and brownfield land currently not considered to be at risk of flooding may be at risk in the future. This means that some of the engineering solutions used to remediate contamination, such as encapsulation of contaminated soil left in situ, permeable reactive barriers, or bentonite walls, may not be appropriate if the site is to be subject to inundation by flood waters.
The Environment Agency's role
The Environment Agency is the Government's principal adviser on the environment, and can contribute to the successful re-use of brownfield land in a number of ways. English Partnerships have been asked by the Communities and Local Government to lead a National Brownfield Strategy. This can provide the mechanism to set out a national approach to re-use of previously developed land which brings together social, economic and environmental needs. The Agency, with others, is contributing to the development of this strategy.
The land use planning system is a key delivery mechanism for brownfield land regeneration. The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on Structure Plans, and when development of a certain type, or in a certain location, is proposed. We are also consulted, as well as when proposed development requires an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Many brownfield sites lie within floodplains. Government does not wish to increase flood vulnerability, but it does want to re-use brownfield land. We have the lead role in providing advice to developers and planning authorities on flood risk issues, identifying which areas are at high risk of flooding. Such information allows planning authorities and developers to target and prioritise development locations, and prepare Flood Risk Assessments in accordance with the sequential approach as outlined in PPG251.
Many brownfield sites have been contaminated by previous uses. Long-term contamination and the lack of economically viable remediation methods may be at the heart of their neglect. We provide guidance on the ways to assess risks from land contamination and on ways to remediate land where necessary. We work closely with government, local authorities and industry to protect human health and the environment from such contamination. We contribute to the National Brownfield Strategy and the Land Restoration Trust.
Issuer of licences/permits
We issue the various permits that may be required to treat contaminated land. We regulate 'special' sites and provide general advice and information to local planning authorities.
At present, the regulatory complexities of reclaiming some brownfield land act as a barrier to new development on these sites. The Agency has a role in assessing whether the regulatory route can be streamlined to enable brownfield development to be brought forward more quickly.
Solutions we call for:
To increase the sustainability of brownfield land redevelopment the Agency calls for:
- Environmental improvements to form an integral part of regenerating brownfield land. Brownfield redevelopment should minimise the effects of development on the wider environment through using resources efficiently and limiting pollution.
- The sequential flood risk test in PPG251 to take precedence when redeveloping brownfield sites within areas at risk of flood. PPG3 and PPG25 should be revised to ensure that when brownfield sites within flood risk areas are redeveloped, the sequential flood risk test is applied, and takes precedence, to ensure that development type matches the risk of flood. Some sites within areas of high flood risk may only be suitable for reuse as open space uses, such as a nature reserve.
- The setting of new regional targets for brownfield land to replace the existing national target for new homes on brownfield land which has already been met. We call for challenging new regional targets, which reflect the availability of land in each region suitable for redevelopment. These should be enshrined in Regional Spatial Strategies.
- Support for setting up the proposed Land Restoration Trust, a partnership between English Partnerships, Groundwork Trust, Forestry Commission and Environment Agency, to provide a way to fund brownfield regeneration for uses such as open space or wildlife reserves. It will aim to provide long-term management solutions (including remediation) for land with contamination problems, providing and promoting remediation of sites where there is little economic incentive for redevelopment or decontamination.
- Co-ordinated permitting. To accelerate development on brownfield sites, the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs should implement a unified permit process (single remediation permit) to reduce the regulatory complexities associated with development of contaminated brownfield sites.
- A comprehensive series of measures to be produced and supported by economic instruments to promote the sustainable re-use of contaminated brownfield sites. This should include measures for those sites where an intensive end-use may be inappropriate, and could include landfill tax exemption, corporation tax relief, and the use of landfill tax receipts to subsidise open space / leisure functions, which are currently uneconomic. This position statement applies to England only. New planning guidance is being developed for Wales which may require different policies.
This position statement applies to England only. New planning guidance is being developed for Wales which may require different policies.
- In England, 66,000 hectares of brownfield land (equivalent to an area the size of the West Midlands conurbation) are either vacant, derelict or available for redevelopment2.
- The Government has set a target of 60 per cent of new developments to be built on previously developed land and through conversion of existing buildings by 2008.
- 60 per cent of new dwellings built in 2000 (61 per cent in 2001)3 were provided on previously developed land.
- The proportion of development on brownfield land varies widely from region to region. In London it is 90 per cent, while in the South West and East Midlands it is less than 40 per cent4.
- Between 1997 and 2000, on average nearly 15,000 dwellings were built each year in flood risk areas. Two thirds of these dwellings were built on previously developed land5.
1 PPG25 Government Planning Policy Guidance on Flood Risk requires Local Planning Authorities to apply a risk based approach to the preparation of development plans and development control decisions through a sequential test, demonstrating that there are no reasonable options available that offer a lower risk.
2 National Land Use Database - 2001 Survey.
3 Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Land use change in England: Residential Development to 2001.Table 1. Statistical Release May 2002
4 Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Land use change in England: Residential Development to 2001.Table 2. Statistical Release May 2002
5 Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Land use change in England: Residential Development to 2001.Table 7. Statistical Release May 2002