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How Chesterfield is turning a contaminated brownfield site into new homes

The accolade of being one of Europe’s most polluted pieces of land is not exactly one to be celebrated. It is certainly not something that you would associate with a residential development housing hundreds of families.

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Yet, that is exactly what has happened to a former coke works in Chesterfield that is now providing 98 hectares of residential land and will soon accommodate nearly 500 homes.

Remediation of industrial sites

Contaminated land is highly controlled by environmental legislation in the UK. According to UK law (namely the Environmental Protection Act 1990), local councils have a duty to inspect land covered by their area to establish if there is ‘significant harm occurring or significant possibility of significant harm’ (SPOSH). If this is found, then the land is designated as contaminated.

A clean-up operation is then required before the land can be redeveloped and this should be done with the help of specialists such as Land Remediation Services from Ash Remediation.

Land Remediation Services are in high demand these days. A recent survey by Future Climate established that 1,029 property deals (adding up to £951m) took place in areas that were former industrial sites. All of these will have required remediation before development could take place.

In the case of the Chesterfield site, the work took many years to complete and cost an estimated £179m, paid by Homes England.

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The extent of the problem

The former Chesterfield coke works may be an extreme (and large) example but it is by no means unique. Due to the UK’s industrial heritage, there are thousands of pieces of land that were once occupied by factories or chemical or gas works or which have been used for refuse disposal (landfill). They are all potentially contaminated with toxic substances including heavy metals such as arsenic, zinc and lead.

Once a piece of land has been designated as contaminated, there is a complicated process to identify who has the responsibility for clearing it up. In theory, this is the organisation that caused the pollution. However, there is a concept of a ‘knowing permitter’ which can be anyone who acquiesces to the land’s pollution. They may find that their land is contaminated but fail to do anything about it even though they have the power to do so and they become liable.

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