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Brownfield Sites

By: Jennifer Gray - Updated: 27 Nov 2015 | comments*Discuss
Brownfield Brownfield Sites

In the UK a brownfield site is defined as "previously developed land" that has the potential for being redeveloped. It is often (but not always) land that has been used for industrial and commercial purposes and is now derelict and possibly contaminated. In the USA a brownfield site always refers to industrial land that has been abandoned and that is also contaminated with low levels of hazardous waste and pollutants.

The lack of available green spaces for development purposes has meant that brownfield sites have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in places where demand for residential and commercial property is high. There are over 66,000 hectares of brownfield sites in England, and around a third of these are in the high-growth areas of greater London, the South East and East. The UK is committed to developing brownfield sites as a priority. It has already exceeded its 2008 target of building over 60% of new houses on brownfield sites, and aims to significantly grow this percentage over the next decade.

Brownfield sites are considered for redevelopment of not only housing and commercial buildings, but also as open spaces for recreation, conservation, woodland and other community areas.


All brownfield sites need to be assessed by an experienced environmental consultant before they can be redeveloped. This involves an analysis of the soil, groundwater and surface water through testing for hazardous compounds, and ensures that appropriate measures are taken to reduce identified risks and liabilities. Any development plans must be made compliant with current regulations. Special licenses are required to reclaim brownfield sites and strict environmental regulations can be prohibitive for developers. If the environmental assessment is positive and supports the redevelopment, the next step is remediation.


Remediation of a brownfield site is the removal of all known contaminants to levels considered safe for human health. Redevelopment can only take place after all environmental health risks have been assessed and removed. Remediation can be expensive and complex, and this needs to be seriously considered before purchasing brownfield land. Not all sites are deemed suitable for remediation, particularly if the costs exceed the value of the land after development.

In the last few years several new and exciting remediation technologies have started to emerge. These are proving to be relatively low-cost compared to traditional processes, with the benefit of protecting and preserving the environment:

  • Bioremediation uses the natural processes of indigenous bacteria, microorganisms, plants, enzymes and fungi to destroy or neutralise toxins and contaminants.
  • Phytoremediation uses plants to store contaminants in their leaves and stems (bioaccumulation). Some contaminants such as heavy metals can be harvested and mined for reuse (phytomining). With phytoremediation, it is critical that contaminants do not enter the food chain. With this in mind, scientists are currently exploring the value of biofuel and energy crops as phytoremediators.
  • In-Situ Chemical Oxidation injects oxygen or chemical oxidants into the contaminated soil or water to destroy harmful compounds.
These new remediation technologies are providing important information about the abilities of natural processes to transform poisonous materials back into a harmless state. This information has widespread application in many situations, but is particularly relevant for restoration of the damaged environment and rehabilitation of brownfield land.

Sustainable Redevelopment

The reclamation and reuse of brownfield sites is a core component of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy integrating a wide range of economic, social and environmental objectives. Brownfield redevelopment not only cleans up environmental health hazards and eyesores, but it is also a catalyst for community regeneration, particularly when communities are brought into the consultation process of site identification and restoration. Managed effectively as a sustainable redevelopment scheme, brownfield sites provide affordable housing, create opportunities for employment, promote conservation and wildlife, and offer a shared place for play and enjoyment. Above all, the transformation of a brownfield site is a vision of hope for the future.

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I have a 6.4 hec's site of mixed use equestrian haulage andresidential with its own black line settlement boundary. We have been using the site in various degrees since the 1st june 1981 and is now classed as brownfield. Ive have put in plans for modern filling station and 6 houses closed to main house. Is there any suggestions for the other 5 hecs
billy - 21-Nov-15 @ 11:07 AM
candy656 - Your Question:
We are looking to purchase a house with a 3 acre field (not attached to the house but up a shared drive with 1 neighbour) there are 4/5 large 40ft derelict greenhouses on the site along with what appears to be a very large poly tunnel base. We are looking to purchase the property with a view to possibly build on the above a home for ourselves one day. I believe this would be classed as brownfield but where would I start to investigate?

Our Response:
Your local planning officer will be able to tell you this.
SustainableBuild - 3-Sep-15 @ 2:33 PM
ecopat - Your Question:
We are in adverse possession of a small plot (about half an acre) of unregistered land within the green belt. Our aim is to fulfill the 12 year rule to eventually own said plot. From the late 60's the land was being used by a government department as a 'road making facility' to store aggregates and oil for the manufacture of tarmac on the site, and was abandoned by them over 20 years ago. There are no buildings on the site. The land was left contaminated with solidified tarmac and aggregates. The abandonment of the land caused a huge fly tipping problem. What are the chances of this land being reclassified as a brownfield site?

Our Response:
We really can't say as we don't know the area or the specific details. A local planner may be able to tell you.
SustainableBuild - 2-Sep-15 @ 12:28 PM
We are in adverse possession of a small plot (about half an acre) of unregistered land within the green belt.Our aim is to fulfill the 12 year rule to eventually own said plot.From the late 60's the land was being used by a government department as a 'road making facility' to store aggregates and oil for the manufacture of tarmac on the site, and was abandoned by them over 20 years ago.There are no buildings on the site.The land was left contaminated with solidified tarmac and aggregates.The abandonment of the land caused a huge fly tipping problem.What are the chances of this land being reclassified as a brownfield site?
ecopat - 30-Aug-15 @ 12:07 PM
we are looking to purchase a house with a 3 acre field (not attached to the house but up a shared drive with 1 neighbour) there are 4/5 large 40ft derelict greenhouses on the site along with what appears to be a very large poly tunnel base. We are looking to purchase the property with a view to possibly build on the above a home for ourselves one day. I believe this would be classed as brownfield but where would i start to investigate?
candy656 - 29-Aug-15 @ 11:50 PM
@Cllr marmite. What has the planning been granted for?
SustainableBuild - 29-Jul-15 @ 12:05 PM
I live in Trowse Norfolk a large selection of river valley has been granted planning despite massive objection's, when the land is return will it then became brown field site? Russell N Herring
Cllr marmite - 28-Jul-15 @ 10:26 AM
@Regret. It does not mean that it will necessarily be a problem for you. Some traces of diesel do not mean the land is "contaminated|". Contamination to a level where it could be harmful is usually in areas of former heavy industry such as chemical works, factories, mines etc. Your local council will be able to give guidance on this. If you want to take action against the developer you will need to have evidence that they did not take sufficient precautions in the building design etc.
SustainableBuild - 15-Jul-15 @ 10:14 AM
I bought my new build house in December 2014; the land was previously a bus depot. When digging a trench to plant a hedge we found diesel in the soil as close to the surface as 3-4 inches, and have since discovered there is what appears to be a big concrete tank just below ground level - the "garden" was a mound above the level of the road, so it looks as though the developers had tried to cover it up rather than dealing with the contaminated land. Where do we stand with this legally?
Regret - 9-Jul-15 @ 3:25 PM
I am looking to buy a house that is twenty years old . When it was built it was on brown fill land and the building company was given a certificate saying the land was safe . However the certificate expired in 2004 . Surely if I buy this house do I need to have someone come in and test the soil when I sell it ??The searches have shown no contamination issues raised by the council however the solicitor says they must now notify the building society who may now withdraw the offer .
Dazza - 21-May-15 @ 3:59 PM
@Kat. Your first step would be to see whether you can get outline planning permission. Phone or make an appointment to visit your local planning office. The staff are usually very helpful and will offer you advice to get you started.
SustainableBuild - 7-Apr-15 @ 2:49 PM
I have a very large garden and would like to build another house on it but I'm not sure where to start. Could anyone advise please? Thanks.
Kat - 4-Apr-15 @ 4:20 PM
@Ghindu. There is no such map. A piece of land will be assessed as to whether it is brownfield when proposed developments are made.
SustainableBuild - 9-Jan-15 @ 2:12 PM
Hello, Please tell me where can I find a map of the brownfield sites ?
Ghindu? - 8-Jan-15 @ 8:51 AM
An area of greenfield land adjacent to my house has recently had planning permission for 24 houses rejected on the grounds that the development does not meet the required percentage of 'affordable' housing. This site has been horse paddock for many years, is home to a variety of wildlife (bats, badgers, etc) is designated green field, on a flood plain and is accessed only by the small road I live on, is outside of the village boundary and this small road is the only access for the primary school. At a recent packed planning meeting, after a show of hands, there was one raised hand in support of the development and that was the developer himself. After many objections by local people for the reasons above who want to protect the area, and who have read the council's core strategy, we can see many grounds in which the strategy has been ignored in favour of a general "more housing is needed". A recent brown field site within he village boundary was rejected planning for "aesthetic reasons" I.e. The proposed houses were not in keeping with the surrounding properties.What kind of reason is that when "housing requirements take precedence" and how can a council ignore its own core strategy? Are objections ever really considered, or do developers always have their way - it would seem if this developer adjusts his plans to include the 2 percent affordable housing, then permission will probably be granted and the brownfield site will still be an abandoned eyesore. How can this be right? Who has the final say with regards to developing appropriate sites?it doesn't seem to be the council when they are 'leaving the door open' for this developer make a small change to his plans. Where do we as the community go for help? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Lynn - 28-Dec-14 @ 1:21 PM
@tricky. What have they classified the land as if not brownfield?
SustainableBuild - 10-Nov-14 @ 12:35 PM
i have an area of land which was previously used as a comercial garage for car repairs, after applying for planning permision we were told the site would not be classed as brownfield (pdl) as the garage has not been used for over ten years dispite the fact it still has the vechile lift what do you think? is it a valid point they are making as i cant seem to find any ruling to suggest the ten year non use rule
tricky - 7-Nov-14 @ 2:12 PM
@none. This is a recurring problem around the country. Check your town's development plan and the planning policies at your local council (Cheshire East?). You should then contact your MP to establish what steps if any are being undertaken to use up Brownfield sites. It's more of a political issue, so your MP should be able to take this up on your behalf (and that of many other readers too we imagine).
SustainableBuild - 24-Oct-14 @ 1:56 PM
I have an ongoing concern as to the brownfields sites around Macclesfield..I have had a response from the council which is..the council does not own the these properties ...so they cannot do anything ..I would appreciate you input...Manchester city council has been able to regenerate many parts that are post industrial...so why cant it happen in Macclesfield?..they would rather high jack the countryside nearby...I would like to know why these post industrial sites cannot be regenerated or renovated ..how does the law stand on the fact that some sites are ;privately owned...surely if I left my house fall into to rack and ruin then I would be held to account? there are at least 14 sites around Macc just left to ruin
None - 22-Oct-14 @ 10:47 PM
I need to know how to rehabilitate a land polluted by diesel fuel.
boss - 22-Sep-14 @ 8:47 AM
Can Solar farms use Brownfield Land rather than impinge onto arable high grade agricultural land? If so why is this not promoted by government?
Barbara - 1-Apr-14 @ 1:16 PM
In Rochdale the council says it has brownfield sites that will accomodate 6000 new houses.Taylor Wimpey has applied to build 200 on Protected Open Land that is wet, boggy, swamp and adjacent to the M62 with diesel pollution issues and claims the brownfield sites are not 'readily available' for building upon - a view that is enthusiastically supported by the Planning Officer.What is the criteria, please, for deciding whether brownfield land is 'readily availabe'? I can not find the answer from Rochdale Council - indeed at least one site already has planning permission for 170 houses and the ward councillor is begging for developers to move on and build.... without success.If you know what the criteria is please let me know urgently.
Neil - 3-Sep-12 @ 12:04 PM
Do planners look more favarable on brownfield redevelopment
gambler - 8-Feb-12 @ 6:01 PM
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