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REMEDIATION - For a national brownfield strategy to work, it must address uncertainty in planning and legislation - as well as providing financial incentives for developers.Toby Uppington reports.

A major obstacle to brownfield redevelopment is uncertainty, perceived or real, in both time and cost. Questions on waste regulation and classification and the lack of clearly defined clean up criteria present a challenge to government to provide confidence to potential investors and developers.

On top of this, continuing changes to legislation cloud the market's perception of environmental requirements.The issue of contaminated land liability needs to be clarified.

And while there are incentives for the development of previously developed land (PDL), they are not well understood or inter-related. In the UK there is no standard approach to the availability of assistance and to the processing of funding applications.

National policy initiatives seeking to increase the uptake of PDL cannot be made in isolation, but must incorporate the legislation, infrastructure, dynamics and market conditions of the entire regime.

The full chain of events, costs and risks must also be considered together. Planning authorities are obliged to involve a number of statutory consultees, but may not have any common guidance.

The creation of uniform, clear and reliable guidance or published precedent on critical policy issues that impact cost would be a valuable step forward.

English Partnerships (EP), the UK government's key regeneration agency, is required to develop and maintain the national brownfield strategy which will include a best practice guide on the assembly, remediation and development of land and buildings.

EP published Towards a national brownfield strategy in September 2003.The document provides an assessment of brownfield regeneration, including the re-use of all PDL and recommends corresponding policy changes.

EP used government statistics from the national land use database to assess the UK's progress with respect to the regeneration of PDL, including contaminated and derelict sites.

The report highlighted several weaknesses in data and assessed trends within the regeneration field.

The government's target for 60% of new housing to be built on PDL has already been exceeded. To create a continued impetus for PDL redevelopment, the 60% development target should be revised upwards.

Government policy should focus on simplifying the planning regime and legislation to provide incentives for regeneration. The strategy should seek to address uncertainty issues with regards to the time to release planning conditions and the remediation costs.

The strategy should also be of use not only to the development community and environmental practitioners, but also to decision makers.

The large number of complex, changing regulatory controls associated with the management of brownfield land and wastes present a significant barrier to redevelopment.

Better coordination with regionally standardised implementation of licensing, classification and approvals is required. The transfer of responsibility for the identification of contaminated land to local councils under Part IIA of the Environment Protection Act is not fulfilling its potential as a driver for redevelopment.

By smoothing and standardising the planning requirements for brownfield redevelopment and promoting greater understanding of them, government should be able to increase the uptake of brownfield land.

Historic data suggests a flat rate of brownfield redevelopment and a number of changes to market influences are needed, including disincentives for greenfield development or for the long term retention of derelict sites. A national brownfield strategy should limit the 'at risk' costs which have to be paid up front and provide a framework for risk management of the development process.

One of the key problems identified by EP is the legacy of 'hardcore' sites that remain difficult to develop. One suggestion from the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) is for the up-front funding of site classification and planning studies to provide developers with greater certainty for the opportunities associated with these challenging properties.

EIC supports the broad objectives of the strategy. To help industry achieve these objectives, its contaminated land remediation group is developing its own brownfield strategy. This will be finalised and presented to the deputy prime minister in the coming months.

Toby Uppington is a senior consultant at consultancy URS and a representative on the Environmental Industries Commission's contaminated land remediation group.

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