'Where there's muck, there's brass' is increasingly true of brownfield sites. Intense pressure for development land means sites once considered unsuitable are now desirable - so long as issues of reclamation, remediation and decontamination can be tackled.
According to the Environment Agency the UK has an estimated 33,000ha of previously developed land of which more than 17,000ha requires some form of remediation before reuse.
Brownfield sites' varied histories range from former shipyards and docks at Victoria Dock, Hull, now a residential area, to the gasworks site on the Greenwich peninsula which became home to Millennium Dome.
One of the UK's largest brownfield developments is Newburn Riverside Industry Park on the River Tyne. Located on the western fringe of Newcastle, it reflects many of the challenges faced by developers of such sites.
Formerly occupied by the Stella B power station and the Anglo Great Lakes graphite plant, both now demolished, the Newburn site will be transformed into an industry park intended to stimulate the region's economy.
When completed, Newburn Riverside will be able to offer 180,000m 2of floor space for business and industry.
Jonathan Blackie, director of regeneration at regional development agency One NorthEast, says the site's condition presented significant challenges.
'But we were determined to make a difference by regenerating and developing it into a symbol of success and prosperity within the region, ' he says.
The scale of the problems at Newburn are testimony to the need for a regional development agency with the resources and scale of One NorthEast to bring about substantive regeneration.
Working with Taylor Woodrow and earthworks specialist Webfell, One NorthEast encouraged a partnership approach to provide open communication channels and a greater level of commitment to tackle any problems that might arise. The resulting £10M two-year earthwork contract is part of a £20M scheme that began in January 2000.
Webfell will move some 4m. m 3ofmaterial around the site - equivalent to filling 12 Wembley stadiums to the brim - and where possible extract materials for recycling and reuse within the scheme.
Reclamation methods employed include screening and washing of graphite deposits, lime mixing and oxygenation for sulphates and sulphides, and bio-remediation to remove oil contamination.
Webfell was brought in to provide best-value environmentally sensitive solutions to manage the neutralisation and processing of the waste graphite cores from the plant. About 280,000m 3of graphite is being separated from other materials by a trommel screening process to reduce the volume of contaminant within the site.
The process uses a series of metal drums which act as a sieve.
It allows reclaimed material to be sorted and graded into specific sizes to ensure the graphite is washed and treated effectively.
'Our main challenge is to maximise the amount of material to be used or recycled within the site, ' says Peter Bevils, contracts director at Webfell. 'This can only be achieved by developing and using the most appropriate technical processing techniques.
'The key to a project of this size is turning any unsuitable contaminated material into that which meets strict environmental and construction legislation and investors' standards when used as engineering fill within the site.'
To tackle the project Webfell employed a 55-strong fleet of plant equipment including its most recent investment of more than £1.5 million worth of state-of-the-art heavy plant. The low-emission machines range from 13t excavators to 45t and 40t dump trucks plus numerous support plant involved in processing, compaction and infrastructure preparation works.
Both project and site have been divided into a two-phase programme, which will see the release of plots at regular intervals.
Plot 1 is expected to be released by the end of August 2000. The final stage, which coincides with the contract completion date, will allow the bi-monthly release of Plots 2 to 9 until December 2001.
Bevils says: 'It's not simply a case of shifting muck, the focus of attention has to be on the detail and quality of a sustainable remediation strategy.
'The benefits of this kind of approach allow validation with confidence for both the client and recipient developer. On projects of the size and importance of Newburn, there are no short cuts available when providing safe, compliant solutions.
'After remediation and decontamination, sites may look fine on the surface but clients and developers have to be sure that they'll meet legal requirements for decades to come.'
In the brownfield regeneration sector it is likely that developers and end-users will not only invest in how the development is at the time of purchase but how 'suitable for use' it will be in 10, 50 or a 100 years.
As more brownfield sites are required for development, remediation service providers will have to come up with more site-specific solutions which clients and developers can have total confidence in.
The Newburn scheme is an example of what can be achieved in reclaiming sizeable derelict areas.