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With such a huge land shortage in the UK, we are now seeing a growing trend of Brownfield land being reused for housing. Brownfield sites are plots of land on which factories or some type of industry once resided. This type of land is considered contaminated to some degree. Depending on the type of factory, the level of contamination may be slight or it could be significant. However, as land becomes harder and harder to find, we see self-builders and large housing developers snatching Brownfield sites up.

In fact, Brownfield sites can make a direct contribution to urban housing capacity in the UK but while this land is available, it comes with complications. First, we wanted to address some findings specific to Brownfield sites. For starters, from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, Brownfield sites in the UK were used for more than 50% of all new private housing in the Clydebank Conurbation.

In addition, because of the shortfall of value for completed schemes over the cost of development, reusing Brownfield sites became big business. However, reusing Brownfield sites for housing was also influenced by the uncertainty of costs associated with reclaiming the land, as well as ownership constraints, surrounding environment, and no past record of private housing development in the area.

When it comes to the planning and environmental policy, reusing Brownfield land for housing is the primary objective. In fact, normal concerns relating to urban decline have been set aside by greater concerns of making Brownfield sites more efficient. The problem is that in recent years, the need for more homes has increased dramatically but without land, the problem has become so huge people are scrambling trying to find viable solutions.

Reusing Brownfield sites in the UK has been done in many areas for quite some time and with great success. However, a critical factor associated with reusing Brownfield sites for housing has to do with the remediation work. Depending on the type of factory and the contents in the soil, it could be that the contamination can be hauled out quickly and for little cost. With this, a self-builder or housing developer could clean the site up in no time and have new housing up and ready for move-in.

Unfortunately, the process of reusing Brownfield sites for housing begins with finding the land. From there, the builder or developer would need to hire a consultant knowledgeable and trained in working with Brownfield sites. This consultant would spend time conducting tests of the soil at various depths and at various spots on the land to determine the types of contaminants and the extent of the contamination.

For this testing to be complete, various experts might need to be brought in, again depending on the history of the Brownfield site. Once the consultant is done with his or her testing, a comprehensive report would be provided to you, outlining everything found. Together, you would go through the types of contaminants found, the level of damage, and the solutions of remediation. At this point, you would have the option of going ahead with the work or not. Keep in mind that sometimes, the process can be quite lengthy and then once you get the report, the cost of remediation expensive. Again, only you can decide if remediation is even worth doing or not.

To give you an idea of what you might be up against, recently 28 undeveloped Brownfield sites in the UK were targeted for study to determine the level of damage from contaminants. The result was that of the 28, 20 sites had significant or very significant contamination, meaning before housing development could begin, a lot of work would need to be done, which would cost serious money. Then, another 38 Brownfield sites were identified and of those, 22 were located in areas deemed strong private housing markets.

One of the more complicated matters associated with reusing Brownfield land for housing is that many times, you cannot determine the type of factory or industry previously on the land. Then if you do find the type of factory, you may only uncover a portion of the chemicals they used in various processes. Obviously, this means more intensive testing is required, which then typically leads into more time and of course, more money.

You will also find that for many Brownfield sites, you run into the issue of market for private housing, which results in land and sale value issues. In this case, you might find yourself in a situation of stalemate whereby the developer and investigator do not want to move forward past the initial site survey until a guarantee that the expenses can be recovered is provided. However, until further investigation is performed, this type of guarantee cannot be made. In other words, the developer does not want the consultant or surveyor to spend more money than what could be recouped from the building of new homes. However, the consultant or surveyor cannot give that guarantee until he/she performs more work - thus, the stalemate.

The bottom line with Brownfield land for housing development is that the relationship between value and cost, along with the uncertainty are the primary determinants on whether the land should even be developed or not. However, remember there are many other factors that come into plat to include quality of surrounding environments, the size of the site, the landowner's attitude, value expectation, and so on. Yes, building on Brownfield land does come with risk but in some cases, the risk can pay off.

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