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Building Homes on Waste Land

Throughout many areas of the UK are plots of forgotten land. This land includes contaminated sites that were once home to factories or industries, some plots of land are simply empty and void of infrastructure such as road access, water, or shelter. Regardless, because there is a shortage of land in the UK, we now see more and more self-builders and commercial developers looking for this used land for building homes. Sometimes, the land can be cleaned up inexpensively and turned into a magnificent development while other times, money must be invested to make the land suitable for living.

Although you will find numerous plots of used land where housing could be built, a number of challenges make it difficult to start the development process. For starters, it is common for housing developers and the local authorities to have different objectives on how the used land should be used. Then, there is the process of choosing the best land for housing development, which would assist in the cost and speed of the development process. Additionally, self-builders and developers must consider that contaminated sites would need cleanup prior to being used. Unfortunately, identifying the type of factory and/or chemicals used on the site is not always possible, which means accurate and thorough cleanup can be difficult.

The UK government believes that contaminated land should be handled through the planning system unless there are situations where pollution of controlled waters or significant harm would be caused. In these cases, you would typically find regulators not associated with the planning process taking action. While most people agree with this approach to contaminated land, also called Brownfield sites, not everyone does.

What everyone does agree on is that identifying a contaminated site early on is essential. Another huge importance for building homes on used land is access. Obviously, not having adequate access in and out of the site would make both self-build and housing development not just difficult but impossible. Regardless of the site of the used land, the most important thing is to identify any potential problems. For this, anyone interested in buying should hire a reputable and qualified consultant to conduct a preliminary assessment of the land to determine if there are any possible hazards that might stop development. Sometimes, identification can be done immediately while other times, it takes a little time and money before serious problems are uncovered.

This consultant should take a number of samples of the soil from various parts of the land and at different depths. Then, an environmental specialist can perform an investigation to tell you if the used land has contaminants and if so, what kind, and how serious. From that point, you would have the option of deciding if the land is worth the investment to decontaminate or whether you should move on to other used land for building. With a detailed report in hand, you will know exactly the processes required to make the land safe for building. This means providing you with history of the site, sample strategy, maps showing trial pit and borehole locations, results analysis, site profiles, strategies for remediation, and summary conclusions.

If considering building on a contaminated site, you would have a number of options for remediation to include excavation and disposal, soil treatment, and containment. However, the method for remediation will depend on several factors. For instance, you need to consider the cost to clean up the contaminated land. You also want to think about uses for connecting land, the proposed housing development, any regulatory and legal issues associated with remediation and development, the surrounding environment, hydrogeology, geology, and geography, timeline for completion, and technical limitations.

Even with all of these factors, the two most important things you need to think about when building on contaminated used land has to do with cost and speed. Obviously, if the cost to cleanup the land were going to be more than what you would get from the housing development, then it would make no sense. In addition, if it would take you longer to complete the cleanup where you will not get a good return on the housing development investment, then you should rethink your strategy. While there are many different possibilities associated with contaminated land, we wanted to provide you with a few specifics based on real case studies to show you what you might be faced with when looking at used land for building.

Iron Works, Timber Yard, Lime Kiln Dock, and Town Gas Works - In this case, the used land was near a town centre and had been used for a variety of industries. Because of this, the local authorities wanted a comprehensive remediation programme for the entire area, which caused a delay in action. The problem was the land was contaminated with a number of things to include heavy metals, ammoniac nitrogen, and sulphates.

Brickworks, Road Haulage, Made Ground, and Shallow Mine Workings - To prepare this used land for a private housing development, it had to be excavated and the worst contaminated material disposed of in a landfill to include hydrocarbons and heavy metals. For unsuitable materials, on-site encapsulation was used.

Bleach Works, Cotton Mills, and Oil Seals Manufacturer - This site was contaminated with hydrocarbons and heavy metals, as well as plagued with serious access problems. Because the developer ran into problems with the planning authority, the development plan was abandoned.

Chemical Works, Dye Works, Cattle Pens, Electric Light Bulb Manufacturer, Coal Merchants, Railway, Scrap Yard, and Oil Depot - Contaminated with PCB, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and methane in the soil, this used land site ended up having compromised remediation. The result was to use gas protection measures while building a "managed housing" development.

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