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Realistic look at brownfield redevelopment

Your July issue on greening the brown fields provided some fascinating information on the geoenvironmental technologies available to meet the Government's target of building 60% of new homes on previously developed sites. Your readers may also be interested in views aired at the recent BCA conference 'Brown land, myth or reality', where industry experts pointed out some of the pitfalls.

While delegates believed it might be easier to obtain planning permission for brownfield sites, other factors also came into play. Chris LeCointe, technical director for RPS Nigel Moor Planning and Development Consultants, stated: 'It isn't planning issues that will stifle the Government's objectives, but the practical objectives of overcoming tenure/ land ownership complications, price, timing of release, commercial attractiveness of the site, and the potential loss of valuable employment sites.'

A site's marketability also has serious implications for project finance. Redevelopment costs mean brownfield has higher development costs than greenfield, but in most cases it has less desirability. Many sites are in unfashionable parts of cities, and former industrial areas. Although there are ways to make them popular, and profitable, there is still considerable financial risk for the developer.

Contamination surveys may not always be accurate, with the risk that it may cost more and take longer to redevelop, and in the long term through the re-emergence of contamination, and changes in legislation.

The current approach to these liabilities is to rely on a combination of complex warranties and indemnities, and to agree a value that reflects the cost of the residual liabilities. In practice, achieving a satisfactory remedy to problems some time after the site has either been sold or acquired is often found to be less than satisfactory.

There are remedies, one of which addresses the initial problem of the greater cost of developing brownfield. Reiterated by Roger Johnson, chief planning and leisure officer for Dudley MBC, it is the need for government subsidy to make these sites more attractive to developers. Some is already in place through English Partnerships, represented by John Nicholls, who explained its funding regimes, including gap funding, joint ventures, loan guarantees, rent guarantees, and direct development.

In the longer term it is necessary to increase brownfield value. The main way of achieving this is to return quality to urban life, making these areas more desirable, and so more valuable. This should consist of area wide comprehensive regeneration, mixed use/urban village schemes, architectural quality, and the re-use of city centre buildings for niche markets.

Urban villages are seen as the way of attracting people to redeveloped inner city sites, providing a sustainable development of mixed uses, including residential and commercial, with a short walk to amenities and from edge to centre of neighbourhood, compact and dense development, and collaborative planning and community management.

As for making the development of brownfield a more secure proposition financially, realistic insurance policies have been formulated, most notably by Certa (UK), whose technical director, Dr Simon Johnson, said: 'Combining the twin attributes of certification and tailored insurance solutions, a multidisciplinary approach with legal, insurance, technical, financial, and commercial specialists working together as a team to design customised long-term solutions, is proving to be the way forward.'

The conference indicated that although there are many obstacles to the redevelopment of brownfield sites, they are not insurmountable. The fact that brownfield development is here to stay means there is the will to ensure redevelopment becomes a viable proposition.

Martin Hopkins, BCA

Crowthorne, Berks RG45 6YS

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