Brownfield Development – Background, Setbacks and Examples

Background to Brownfield Development

Brownfield Development is a term in urban planning which includes land that has previously been contaminated or used by industrial waste that has now become vacant and unused. It is a term that is opposite to its counterpart of Greenfield Development. However, Brownfield Development can be regenerated and used again if the land is cleared of its contamination before any new development occurs in the area. Brownfield development is most well known in the UK and USA more recently and has been a part of England’s industrial age and heritage.  For instance, in the UK, the UK government declared in 1998 that all new development in the country should take place in Brownfield land.

With rapid urban growth many new developments taking place on previous brownfield lands including the development of green spaces. This is because as land becomes degenerated if it is unused, it will decay. So, it is better to use the land for new developments and regenerate the land so that the area doesn’t go to waste. However, the concept is somewhat controversial because businesses and developers are often reluctant to build on brownfield development because of the expenses incurred on clearing contaminated waste. Also, getting the necessary permissions and legal issues surrounding brownfield development is seen as a setback to most developers. Building on brownfield land also requires technical skills and valuation and sometimes even after remediation, contamination might still persist in addition to environmental pollution. These are controversial issues that stop developers from going further with brownfield development.

Brownfield Development - Developing Land

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With all the controversies, an advantage of Brownfield Development is that “the reclamation and reuse of brownfield sites is a core component of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy integrating a wide range of economic, social and environmental objectives” suggesting that Brownfield Development has some advantages as well.


As mentioned there is some controversy surrounding brownfield development. But some of the major barriers for the development include:

  1. Cost of clearing the land – The immense cost for cleaning the brownfield land to safety standards is difficult and not something most developers would be interested in investing because the cost of the land after cleaning the contamination might be less than what it actually took for the total cost of the land. This can also postpone the redevelopment processes
  2. Waste regeneration – It is thought that if the waste generated by contamination is not cleared in advance, that the residents of the area might be affected by the previous use of the land. This indicates that the regeneration process needs to be well thought and strictly generated so that it doesn’t affect the new use of the land. For instance, tanks which still have waste in them and are not cleaned properly, might not benefit from the new regeneration of the land.

Some examples of Brownfield Use

Despite its controversy, there have been post-redevelopment uses for commercial, residential and public space use of Brownfield Development. Examples include:

  • Atlantic Station Project in Atlanta in the USA which was one of the first brownfield developments in the USA. This was redeveloped as a park and monumental significance for the people of Atlanta.
  • Pittsburg in Pennsylvania has also converted steel mill sites into residential and shopping high-end complex generating a large revenue for the city.
  • Even China has taken advantage of brownfield development, for instance, the Ningbo Eco-Corridor is brownfield converted to a two-mile-long urban filter in Ningbo, China.

As evident, many cities are making use of brownfield land for further development in the area, particularly through regeneration. This has been very beneficial for local residents and municipalities alike as they develop public spaces for general use. If more cities followed through Brownfield Development, land contamination could be avoided and put to use through re-development of the area.

Brownfield Development

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Therefore, although brownfield development is not thought to be the most ideal situation for tenants and developers, it has some good uses and is growing in the 21st century, particularly as more developers in the USA make use of the land. From high-end shopping complexes to parks and monuments, brownfield development has taken many new areas of interest for developers of this century. There are many new laws generated throughout the world regarding brownfield development and it is a direct consequence of the industrial age. As mentioned, it has proven to be controversial and is slowly gaining pace as new technology and cleaning services are being invented for this purpose. Having residential parks for the land has proven to be useful and is well regulated by many municipalities. Therefore, although it is unclear if brownfield development would serve as an advantage in the future, it mostly depends on the location and the waste that has been generated on the previously used land.