The redevelopment of brownfield sites offers both environmental and economic benefits, containing urban sprawl while helping to revitalise communities. In addition, where existing infrastructure is already in place, project costs and completion times may be reduced.
Designed to encourage investment to meet the demand for much needed housing, the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 and the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 has also made it easier for developers to find suitable available land.
The regulations, which came into force in Mid-April 2017 required that local authorities create a brownfield register and updated annually. This gives developers easy access to comprehensive up-to-date and consistent information on sites that local authorities consider to be appropriate for residential development. Part two of the Order goes further, identifying sites which allows local authorities to assign planning permission in principle make the process easier.
However, notwithstanding the attraction of redeveloping prime locations, brownfield construction is not without its hazards. Depending on the historical use of the site, which may extend back before modern industrial standards and controls began, contaminants including petroleum, heavy metals, asbestos, pesticides, PCB and solvents could be present in the ground. This type of contamination is not only a human health and controlled waters risk but presents a significant challenge for any affect drainage and foundation designs associated with the development.
Often, development plans are conceived without adequate assessment of contamination and/or geotechnical issues with limited site investigation and sometimes of poor quality. Development schemes based on the excessive removal of contaminated materials once construction has begun may severely impact the economic viability of the project, exponentially increasing costs while affecting timescales.
Amid concerns about rising project costs and materials supply, financial experts are increasingly challenging the construction industry to up its professional game, reducing commercial uncertainty through intelligent risk management. A proactive approach, this requires that rigorous site investigation be taken at the earliest design stage sand preferably before planning permission is gained, to quantify land remediation requirements and improve cost control.
The value of expert advice
Teaming up with an external site investigation and soil remediation expert guarantees all the bases are covered and can help mitigate site costs, ensuring:
- Contamination liabilities are assessed in a holistic way, considering not only how much contamination there is but what can be done to recover the site
- Risk assessments are carried out to define the extent of the contamination present and agree realistic ground remediation targets, based on the final land use
- Collaboration with other team specialists, allows the implications for site development activities such as drainage, foundations and landscaping to be correctly assessed and integrated
- The application of the best remediation technology in dealing with contamination and the development of a process train to deal with complex cases. (Remediation experts like Ecologia, who can also act as contractor are also able to provide a realistic cost for remediation schemes)
- The identification of likely project constraints associated with permit timescales and other factors including local archaeological and ecological issues
Partnership in practice
Ecologia works closely with developers and their contractors to identify contamination and design cost-effective remediation strategies. The following examples illustrate how soil remediation expertise can be leveraged by developers to assist in land recovery on brownfield sites.
At a large former quarry in Kent, historically used as a brickworks, gunpowder works and landfill site, Ecologia carried out a geo-environmental site investigation addressing contamination in soil and groundwater, soil gas risk associated with the landfill material and devised an appropriate surcharge strategy to improve ground conditions prior to redevelopment . Earmarked for redevelopment, the intended land use included residential dwellings and public open spaces, as well as commercial development providing new employment opportunities.
At a former gas works also used as a production facility for pre-cast concrete, initial investigation revealed extensive LNAPL contamination. The client opted to undertake in-situ voluntary Multi-Phase Extraction (MPE) remediation in advance of planning permission being granted. This reduced the uncertainty of timescales associated with the in-situ groundwater remediation and allowed for a quicker remediation scheme to be implemented following approval of planning consent.
Ecologia has also successfully completed a multi-million contract for remediation and installation of piling platforms across a gas works site in Ashford (Kent) where contaminants included asbestos, hydrocarbons (TPH and PAHs) and heavy metals). Complex screening and sorting were carried out under Ecologia’s Environmental Permit and a Materials Management Plan developed and approved alongside a Flood Risk Activities Permit (FRAP) due to the proximity of a major river running alongside the entire southern boundary of the site. Working closely with the development partners, Ecologia prioritised works on selected parts of the site, enabling piling works to start ahead of the development programme. Ecologia was also able to provide the warranties which enabled the successful sale of the development to a new client whilst the remediation scheme was ongoing.
Ecologia was appointed to undertake risk assessments, propose remediation strategies and verification in association with the redevelopment of a railway station. A key challenge was integrating several contractor interfaces to deliver a remedial strategy that delivered for all phases of development within the constraints of a very confined and busy site. Ecologia’s expertise on discrete bespoke in-situ systems was of specific value in order to design and operate a remediation whilst minimising potential disruption to the site works and the future users.
Ecologia is also able to advise the client on a range of mechanisms whereby the client can get contaminated land corporation tax relief. Under the terms of the tax relief initiative (due originally to be abolished in 2011 but since retained to encourage investment in regeneration), land remediation expenses could be eligible for relief covering up to 150% of the trading costs. This encompasses staff, materials employed and land remediation subcontractor fees.
The timing of claims, which generates an enhanced tax deduction is critical. Ecologia works with clients to ensure successful claims which can be submitted to the HMRC in the normal way or claimed as a repayment for up to 16% of the qualifying loss.
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