Brownfield land: What is it, and why does it matter?

Published on:
Monday March 2, 2020

‘Brownfield’ is a commonly used word in the world of property development – particularly in housing. It is something that we at Legend talk about a lot, on our website and on our social media. For those unfamiliar, it can be somewhat confusing.

However, brownfield land – and its regeneration – is increasingly a defining trend of the property sector, and efforts must be made to make the public more aware of the opportunities it provides for revitalising communities and addressing the ever-spiralling housing crisis.

Brownfield has a number of definitions throughout the world, which differ slightly in their meanings and their implications. In the US, the term confirms the presence of contamination and pollutants, which is not always the case in the UK. Here, ‘brownfield’ refers to previously developed land that has the potential to be regenerated and put to new use.

Most commonly, British brownfield land is formerly industrial land, especially in the North: after all, Britain was the first truly industrialised nation. The Industrial Revolution transformed the UK, setting in motion a population boom and a process of mass urbanisation. Land that was once undisturbed countryside became the site of bustling mills and factories. As the latter half of the 20th Century saw large swathes of deindustrialisation and significant adjustments in the focus of the national economy, vast amounts of former industrial land were left abandoned, and fell into dereliction. This once-developed, now disused land, makes up the majority of what we in the UK refer to as ‘brownfield’.

Brownfield remediation

The industrial legacy of much brownfield land means that there can be issues with contamination, although this varies immensely from site to site. The term for making such land safe prior to development is ‘brownfield remediation’, and it is the most important step in any brownfield development. Only after independent assessment and the complete removal of any identified contaminants can construction take place.

The UK Government first made public commitments on brownfield development in 1998, with a pledge that 60% of new developments would be on brownfield land. Interest in developing brownfield land has renewed more recently, as it is increasingly being identified as an avenue for significant mediation of the housing crisis. In 2018, the Campaign for Rural England reported that there were 17,656 identified brownfield sites in the UK, and that, collectively, these sites had the potential for the construction of a minimum of 1 million homes. With charity Shelter reporting last year that 3 million new homes must be built in the next 20 years, there is no doubting the importance of regeneration brownfield land as a means to seeing this target achieved.

Protecting green belt

The benefits of brownfield regeneration beyond achieving housing targets should be easily recognisable. Not only does it promote a sustainable form of development, protecting important green belt lands and extracting contamination from the development sites if present, it provides an opportunity to inject new life into former industrial communities, removing dilapidated old buildings and seeing the space put to new and exciting use.

Some developers have shied away from developing on brownfield land in the past for a number of reasons, such as the extending development time that regeneration requires, and the likelihood of demolition requirements on formerly industrial sites. The most common of these concerns, however, is about contamination, and the time and investment involved in assessing and remediating polluted land. While such a worry is understandable, enormous strides have been made in brownfield remediation, particularly in the last two decades, and specialists with sufficient experience in land regeneration and property development are well aware of the best ways in which to quickly and safely see contaminated land transformed.

At Legend, regeneration is our most central principle, and our team are constantly on the lookout for enticing opportunities in brownfield development. We are confident in our ability to quickly see land remediated and developed on. Our Widnes Wharf project is set to transform 140 acres of brownfield land in the Widnes area, creating a range of new commercial opportunities and energising the local economy. We’re excited at the prospect of being at the helm of similar efforts in the future, and hope we can play our part in the property sector’s wider efforts to see the former heartlands of British industry blossoming again.

If you would like to discuss regeneration or a potential development, please get in touch. You can either call us on 0161 974 0735 or leave a message on our contact form using the button in the footer below.