Analysis

Investment in ground clean-up technology is vital to meet Chancellor's housing targets

Environmental experts are warning that brownfield land development targets for housing announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne last week will require additional investment in geotechnical services across the industry.

“Part of the Government’s plans to speed up construction on brownfield land involves the introduction of pre-approved local development orders on 90 per cent of suitable sites by 2020,” said Gordon Brockington, group business development director at consultant Environmental Scientifics Group.

"Without investment across the entire construction supply chain – from remediation contractors to the recruitment of skilled workers - the Chancellor’s plans may prove less effective than first thought," Gordon Brockington, ESG

“This is obviously great news for developers, however, in order to meet this unprecedented demand for decontaminated sites, there also needs to be a significant investment in the UK’s geotechnical and geo-environmental testing industry,” he added.

The firm has invested over £500,000 in the past two years in its geotechnical and laboratory divisions to develop its services in contaminated land investigation, consultancy, laboratory testing and mobile on-site analysis services.

“ESG has already witnessed an increase in client demand over the last two years, not only from housing developers but also commercial contractors,” said Brockington. "Without investment across the entire construction supply chain – from remediation contractors to the recruitment of skilled workers - the Chancellor’s plans may prove less effective than first thought."

Measures revealed by the Chancellor last week at the annual Mansion House address are intended to tackle the UK housing shortage by forcing councils to put local development orders on over 90 per cent of brownfield sites suitable for housing. “This urban planning revolution will mean that in effect development on these sites will be pre-approved – local authorities will be able to specify the type of housing, not whether there is housing,” said Osborne.

Delivery plans for the scheme include 30 new housing zones across England with 20 of these in London. Loans for £400m will be made available to local authorities to install supporting infrastructure which can be repaid when land is sold on to developers. Mayor of London Boris Johnson will also receive new powers to fast track approval of new projects.

“This is obviously great news for developers, however, in order to meet this unprecedented demand for decontaminated sites, there also needs to be a significant investment in the UK’s geotechnical and geo-environmental testing industry,” Grodon Brockington, ESG

“Housing is the biggest challenge facing London’s economic development and these new £400 million housing zones will turbo boost housing supply across the capital. This major regeneration will transform communities and provide up to 50,000 much needed homes. They will support 250,000 Londoners into low cost home ownership over the next decade,” said Johnson. 

Some of the £400M funding will be required for site remediation and Brockington said that demand for this has been increasing in line with economic recovery.  “During the economic downturn, developing brownfield sites was less attractive due to, in part, the cost of initial remediation work. Now that the economy is well into its recovery phase, the construction industry has seen significant improvement and residential construction is one factor that is supporting this growth, with house building at its most active in recent years.”