• Rob Allen

A guide to small brownfield sites and land contamination: Part 1 - before buying a brownfield site

Earlier this year the construction industry association, CIRIA published new guidance for developers on small brownfield sites and land contamination. It explores technical, financial, and planning issues that can arise on small construction projects and is a must-read for anyone embarking on development of a brownfield site. The document provides multi-disciplinary guidance for use at various stages in the development programme, from site acquisition to construction and close-out.

This series of blog articles will look at some of the key sections of the guidance, with the aim of distilling the information into a number of short-reads.

Section 3: Before buying a brownfield site

This section of the guidance details of the process through which the developer should go at the pre-acquisition/planning stage, in order to determine the viability of a project.

Professional costs, which should be anticipated prior to submission of a planning application could include:

  • Topographic surveys

  • Ground investigation reports

  • Environmental assessment

  • Asbestos surveys

  • Traffic reports

  • Planning advice

  • Planning application fees

  • Design fees

  • Legal costs

When conducting due diligence, several issues have the potential to impact the value of a site and cause financial risk and delay to the construction programme. These could include:

  • Asbestos in buildings and soil

  • Unexploded ordnance (UXO)

  • Land contamination

  • Ground strength/stability issues

  • Underground infrastructure

  • Sensitive habitats or protected species

  • Fly tipped waste

  • Areas of archaeological importance

  • Mineral resources

  • Invasive plant species

Early identification of the above risks can benefit the developer by allowing them to negotiate on price and allocate time and resources appropriately to deal with them. However, a balance will usually need to be struck between the financial outlay associated with collecting the information up-front and the benefits of understanding these issues at an early stage.

Undertaking a screening/feasibility assessment can provide a useful insight into the environmental risks associated with a site at minimal cost. To take advantage of our complimentary feasibility assessment service, feel free to contact us.

Planning constraints can also hamper a project before it gets off the ground and it can be beneficial to engage a planning consultant to establish the site’s designated use, any local policies which might restrict development, and the planning history of the site.

For developers seeking funding for their project, the guidance explores several different ways of financing a scheme, which include:

  • Cash

  • Joint venture

  • Private equity

  • Commercial lenders

  • Crowdfunding

A number of grants and government incentives are also available to small developers in the UK, these include:

  • Home building fund (England)

  • Help to buy scheme (England)

  • Help to buy scheme (Scotland)

  • Property development fund load (Wales)

  • Community infrastructure levy exemptions (England and Wales)

  • Land remediation tax relief

Finally, development of a Risk Register can be a good way of drawing all the above information together to view and manage the risks associated with the proposed development. This document should be produced in collaboration with the relevant appointed professionals.

Next time, we'll look at the planning issues that need to be considered prior to brownfield site development in a bit more detail.