Getting Out of the Ground on Brownfield Sites

While it’s easier to build on greenfield sites, the shrinking natural environment has pushed more conscientious developers into the use of brownfield sites. Additional complications can cause the cost and difficulty to ratchet up as the contaminated land requires specialist skills to reclaim. But with the proper techniques, brownfield land can be converted into a viable commercial or residential property with relative ease.

The prime issue with brownfield land is that it will inevitably be contaminated in some way. Either because building work previously existed and is now derelict, the land is in a heavily built up area or the site’s prior use was one that lead to damage to the ground and the project is now based in restoration.

Firstly, it has to be established whether or not the contamination of the land constitutes a danger. Some examples of sites that have potentially hazardous contamination include former factories, mines, steelworks and landfills. The onus for whether a land is contaminated lies with the local authority. If it is found that the land is contaminated then developers will have to liaise with the Environment Agency, who will advise whether or not an environmental permit is needed. They are also likely to offer advice on how to best overcome any specific difficulties.

Once the site is cleared for development, it’s important that the building work is tailored for the unique challenges of the land. A good example is the foundation, the most important initial step in construction. Being previously built upon, the ground conditions of a Brownfield site may be challenging – particularly if the site was a former landfill or quarry. This can make excavation impossible.

In these cases, it’s worth considering different foundation options, such as raft foundations.

There are two types of raft foundations, Housedeck and Comdeck, the main difference being their focus on residential (Housedeck) or commercial (Comdeck) use. Raft foundations are suitable for brownfield sites of all types. They do not require trenches, are usually quicker to complete, and are more robust than a traditional foundation. They also have the added benefit of generally having a reduced carbon footprint.

Once a solid foundation has been established the rest of the build should be straight forward, provided the brownfield site in question has no further restrictions. Developers should remember to check whether the site’s location will have any restrictions on appearance and whether or not it will inhibit construction. For example, a lot of brownfield sites are in urban centres. While the location is good for both commercial and residential properties, it may inhibit your ability to use certain tools.

There are a few hurdles for brownfield developments, but the lowered environmental impact and the sheer utility of the location can make the construction very worthwhile.