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| A sustainable approach to brownfield blightEurope’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.
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.
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.
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.