Pagabo News

Brownfield: Land of Opportunity

05 March 2024

With the solution to the housing crisis looking as far away as ever, contractors, developers and local authorities are increasingly working in partnership to find ways to deliver the homes needed for a growing population. Brownfield sites are often cited as key to this, but our Head of Construction and infrastructure, David Llewellyn, explains that the challenges in remediating the land can’t be underestimated.

The UK government’s levelling up agenda has seen a concerted effort around transforming towns and cities that have traditionally suffered from underinvestment and subsequently lacked the type of housing stock required in the modern day. These historically industrial towns now sit with large areas of under-utilised brownfield land, but the tide is turning, and the general perspective is that there is a great deal of untapped potential in the provinces.

Brownfield sites are – in equal parts – an opportunity and a challenge. According to statistics from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, brownfield sites in England that have been identified for redevelopment could provide 1.2 million homes – equivalent to four years of the 300,000 new homes target the current government originally committed to.

While this looks like it could be a golden bullet for the housing crisis, the reality is that developing brownfield land comes with a plethora of challenges. Turning traditionally industrial land into plots suitable for new homes is a piece of modern-day alchemy, with significant considerations needed to be made for demolition, decontamination and land remediation before a spade can be put in the ground in earnest.

Regenerating brownfield sites is a key component in solving the current housing crisis, but getting those sites shovel-ready requires a complex hierarchy of interventions.


Value, Not Cost

In October of last year, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced the second phase of the £180 million Brownfield Land Release Fund, which aims to unlock sites as part of the long-term plan for housing. While having access to extra land can only help the UK in its quest for more homes, this land is likely to need significant remediation before any main works can commence.

Land remediation often gets wrapped into the works package for the main contractor, which naturally then usually subcontracts to a specialist anyway. The perceived benefit here for clients is that they are transferring the risk from their side to the main contractor, but what this does mean is that they are not always getting the best possible value for money as those in the supply chain are – quite rightly – making their margin on the project. The main risk being transferred is what lies in the ground, a lot of which is unknown.

Another driver for this approach is the knowledge gap that is present around how long sites can take to remediate – particularly the aforementioned brownfield sites. This can cause a situation that by the time the client realises the extent of the remediation needed, it is at the point where they needed it done yesterday, leading to them going down the main contractor package route as it’s perceived to be the quickest.


The Benefits

The best land for local authorities to sell or operate on is that which is shovel-ready and can provide a quicker return on investment. By treating the land remediation phase of a project as a completely different contract to the main works and by appointing a specialist remediation contractor, work can start much earlier. This means that build programmes are shorter, completion dates are sooner and the time to seeing a return on investment is dramatically reduced, as well as the land being more attractive to developers.

Very often the first thing contractors need to do when starting on site is to carry out any required demolition of what is already there and make the land fit for building on. Procuring and delivering these enabling works under a separate contract prior to the main works means the client can focus on the procurement strategy for the main works, therefore saving time on the overall programme.


Next Steps

As we see contractors, local authorities and developers increasingly work together to unlock challenging brownfield sites as a way to alleviate the housing demand, the need for the kind of specialist skills that land remediation contractors have is only going to grow.

With that, the requirement for efficient procurement routes will become increasingly acute, so it is now more important than ever that clients understand that the route historically perceived as the path of least resistance isn’t always the best option.

Our Demolition and Land Remediation Framework allows you to have access to experienced contractors for your upcoming public sector project. Find out everything you need to know below:

Demolition and Land Remediation Framework

For more information on our frameworks and how they can support you, click below.
Discover our frameworks

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