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| A sustainable approach to brownfield blight

Europe’s former industrial landscapes are all too often left as polluted eyesores, while new buildings spring up elsewhere. Problems associated with brownfield land include high costs for cleaning up polluted soil, and sometimes lack of consensus on what to do with the site once it has been restored. Yet brownfield land is an essential urban resource that we cannot afford to ignore. The RESCUE project argued that an inclusive approach can help brownfield regeneration projects to be sustainable, by meeting the needs of a spectrum of people from local residents to developers and city planners. Having studied regeneration projects in former coalfields across four European countries, the project partners developed a manual of best practice and a tool for measuring the sustainability of brownfield regeneration projects, backed up by an on-line learning system. The aim is to make such projects both more successful and cheaper, and thus more widely taken up.

Ewald 1/2/7, Herten, Germany; MGG, Essen
‘Brownfield’ sites – areas of former industrial activity that are now derelict – are a challenge to policy-makers and urban planners alike. Urban brownfield land is a valuable resource, yet the costs of checking for and cleaning up industrial pollution can be high. Although the last decade has seen greater interest in regenerating urban brownfield sites, success has been patchy. Developers often find it easier to build new houses, offices, warehouses and factories on greenfield sites. As a result, urban dereliction persists while Europe’s stock of farmland and green belt continues to shrink.

Although countries including France, Germany and the UK have spent many years and a great deal of money on brownfield regeneration, to date there are few accepted standards for the way regeneration should be carried out. One problem with past brownfield regeneration projects has been the absence of a holistic approach, according to the partners of the RESCUE project.

Brownfield regeneration is traditionally discussed mainly within the boundaries of the various disciplines involved, often with an emphasis on the technical aspects of soil and groundwater remediation. But all modern urban development, including brownfield development, should pay attention to sustainability, points out Gernot Pahlen of MGG Montan-Grundstücksgesellschaft, the project coordinator. “We needed a holistic approach that gives equal treatment to economic, social, environmental and institutional facets, and makes sure that brownfield regeneration is carried out sustainably”, he says, “and that is what the RESCUE project set out to do.” The aim is to give local people what they want, while ensuring that regeneration projects are economically attractive and environmentally sound.

Coalfield expertise

Schwerin 1 / 2, Castrop-Rauxel, Germany: Integrated potential- and restriction analysis; MGG, Essen
The three-year RESCUE project began in March 2002. It was carried out under Key Action IV, ‘Cities of tomorrow and cultural heritage’ in the ‘Energy, environment and sustainable development’ programme of the EC’s Fifth Framework Programme.

MGG is a subsidiary of RAG Aktiengesellschaft, one of the biggest industrial groups in Germany, whose business activities comprise energy, chemicals, real estate and mining. The regions studied by the project provide a tour of Europe’s coalfields: Nord-Pas de Calais in France; north-east England and Derbyshire in the UK; Silesia in Poland; and the Ruhr and the area south of Leipzig in Germany. By studying eight regeneration projects in these areas, where industrial blight is some of the worst seen in Europe, the project partners were able to come up with a set of tools and best practices for the sustainable regeneration of European industrial brownfield sites.

“With 14 partners, this was a challenging project to manage,” says Pahlen. “All four of the countries represented were involved in each of the ten work packages.” The first of these work packages established a framework for the management of the project, the choice of case studies and a practical definition of sustainability in this context. Subsequent work packages progressed through the management of contaminated land, existing buildings, sustainable land use and urban planning, finishing up with tools and recommendations for future regeneration projects.

Guidelines and resources

The compact yet densely-written Best Practice Guidance handbook is one of the main project deliverables. It has four chapters of aimed at project managers; landowners, developers and planners; policy-makers, regulators and citizens; and contractors, designers and professional advisers. Chapter 5 deals with economic incentives and funding criteria, while Chapter 6 sets out details of the other two deliverables: the Virtual Training Centre (VTC) and the Sustainability Assessment Tool (SAT).

The VTC grew out of the need to help people involved in sustainable brownfield regeneration keep their knowledge up to date in this young and evolving field, and to help newcomers learn in a way that is not too daunting. Accessible via the RESCUE website, it has six modules that range from defining and measuring sustainability, through management of existing buildings and infrastructure, sustainable land use, planning, citizen participation and project management.

Recognising that different projects have different sustainability objectives and require different approaches, the RESCUE partners created the SAT as a flexible tool for measuring the sustainability of regeneration projects. Used at an early stage in the project, it helps in the setting of priorities by canvassing the opinions of everyone concerned. The aim is to reach an agreement on sustainability – often in the form of a compromise – that will help the developer secure funds for the project.

Nearly 1 000 copies of the handbook have been distributed, says Pahlen, and German and Polish versions are now being produced. By making regeneration cheaper, as well as easier and fairer, RESCUE will encourage greater use of brownfield sites – an essential resource in the modern world.

Related research themes


graphic element

Mr Gernot Pahlen
MGG Montan-Grundstücksgesellschaft mbH
Rellinghauserstrasse 3
D-45128 Essen
Tel: +49 201 177 1751
Fax: +49 201 177 1846