It has been estimated that there may be up to three million brownfield sites across Europe. Sustainable brownfield regeneration involves making abandoned, underused, derelict and on occasions contaminated, land fit for a new long-term use in order to bring long-lasting life back to the land and the community it lies within.
The European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy (2013) Thematic Issue on Brownfield Regeneration concludes that brownfield remediation and regeneration offers the opportunity to prevent the loss of uncorrupted countryside and may enhance urban spaces and remediate contaminated soils. The EC’s soil sealing guidelines advocate that even temporarily converting brownfield sites into urban greenspace and recreation areas is beneficial.
Brownfield sites – often within urban areas with good transport and infrastructure – make competitive alternatives to greenfield investments. Perceived contamination can often make them less appealing for development. Also consider brownfields sites resulting from the worldwide financial crisis — from commerce, housing, infrastructure and tourism. In these cases, contamination is not problematic.
While national planning policy may help ensure that new developments are focused on brownfield land, local governments are best placed to provide locally relevant incentives to encourage redevelopment of brownfield sites. These might include subsidised insurance, development fees waivers or property tax reduction to reduce risks for investors.
At the European level, the European Regional Development Fund is the main source of financial support. Authorities in Member States can also set up revolving funds via the Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA). Developers obtain low-interest funds and the interest they pay flows back into the fund pool.
Atkinsons et al. (2014) suggest that the practice of regenerating a site can also create social and environmental benefits but warn against assuming that benefits will simply arise as a result of completing a project. The objectives of regeneration activity and the practices required to meet them may not be directly correlated. Through a workshop exercise a model was developed that presents the logic model demonstrating what needs to be considered to improve the project delivery planning process, signposting the steps required to translate project objectives into outcomes, to optimise social and environmental benefits delivered during and after regeneration.
Bartke and Schwarze (2015) emphasised that land management and in particular decisions between greenfield and brownfield development must trade-off different stakeholder, societal and ecological demands. Balancing development and conservation goals is not easy. Their paper concludes controversially that there are no perfect support tools for land-use decisions between greenfields and brownfields and that to be meaningful the user requirements of decision makers must take precedence over those of other interest groups in the design of sustainability assessment tools (SATs).
In the longer term, developers and planners need to recognise that all new construction is essentially temporary and we therefore need to plan for its second life. The Regions for Economic Change Conference (2010) Re-using Brownfield Sites and Buildings Workshop report recommends the following
- Empowering citizens, environmental groups and all parts of civil society is important to ensure that policy makers take account of different stakeholder perspectives when considering brownfield development.
- The need to encourage city and regional authorities to prioritise brownfield sites in relation to economic realities.
- Explore how the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) can encourage through its provisions, conditions and incentives the development and redevelopment of more compact, sustainable and cohesive cities
- encourage transnational exchange of practice and encourage mutual learning between local and regional authorities across Europe
- Use an integrated approach to urban development in its various forms by:
- combining land uses,
- bringing together different capital and revenue expenditure,
- combining European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Fund (ESF)
- balancing economic, environmental and social development.
Atkinson, G., Doick, K.J., Burningham, K. and France, C. (2014) Brownfield regeneration to green space: Delivery of project objectives for social and environmental gain. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening (13): 586–594
Bartke, S. and Schwarze, R. (2015) No perfect tools: Trade-offs of sustainability principles and user requirements in designing support tools for land-use decisions between greenfields and brownfields. Journal of Environmental Management (153): 11–24
Ramsden, P. (2010) Re-using Brownfield Sites and Buildings. Report of the Regions for Economic Change Conference, 21 May 2010. Workshop Report. AcSS. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/archive/conferences/ sustainable-growth/doc/rfec_brownfield_en.pdf