Kathryn Mair, Report Manager at GeoSmart Information explores some of the risks associated with new-build development, and explains the support available to developers
With the Government’s target of building 200,000 new homes each year to alleviate the growing housing shortage, and with climate change posing an ever-more challenging risk to infrastructure and property development UK-wide, the pressure on house builders is greater than ever before.
With pressure on house builders to release more land and accelerate development, brownfield land has been given a faster track for planning approval. Whilst posing an obvious solution to land scarcity, brownfield sites represent uncertainty and risk as the exact past site use and potential contaminants can be unknown.
Toxic pollution from waste materials, industrial processes and chemical or fuel storage can leave residues for many years in both the the underlying soils and groundwater.
From an environmental perspective, contaminants can migrate away from the site and pollute underlying groundwater, neighbouring rivers, and local environmentally sensitive areas.
Furthermore, substances may also be corrosive, and potentially explosive, threatening the local ecology, animals and humans. These are in addition to the substantial punitive costs for the disposal of contaminated soils if not identified and managed from an early stage.
The increase in the number of new-build developments within urban areas has also reduced the land’s capability to absorb rainfall through the introduction of hard, impermeable surfaces. This results in greater rain-fall run-off as less water infiltrates into the ground, essentially increasing the speed, and volume, of flooding.
Irrespective of the potential risks involved – whether land contamination, flooding, or related-drainage issues, the developer is responsible for ensuring the site is both suitable and safe for the purpose for which it is intended. It is therefore vital that a developer has a clear understanding of the risks and liabilities associated with the site to ensure the scheme is viable and that profit margins are safeguarded.
With the very process of urbanisation exacerbating the risk of flooding and with numerous sites across the UK thought to be contaminated by past human activities, it is absolutely vital that developers walk into a project with their eyes wide open. The first step any developer should take in assessing the potential risks of a site is to commission a detailed environmental report.
By accurately identifying the underlying ground conditions and understanding the size and shape of any potential development restrictions, developers are provided with vital information on the overall potential viability of the development. This can then lead to a more detailed appraisal of the likely remediation programme, the costs that would be needed as part of the permission, and therefore the costs that need to be built into the project.
Formerly Envirep, GeoSmart Information was launched at the end of 2015 to provide developers and self-builders with smarter and broader range of reports and data on both the suitability and sustainability of proposed development schemes through affordable, accessible and accurate environmental risk information.
By combining environmental, geological, hydrological, and historical data, the reports provide vital site-specific information which can be used to support planning applications, to accurately guide any further investigation requirements, and to help ensure developers adhere to all regulations by effectively managing their environmental risk.
For example, the importance of integrating Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) into new build developments has become ever-more prevalent since the Government made it a legal requirement in April last year for all new development plans in England within areas affected by flooding to incorporate them. The National Planning Policy Framework also requires that new developments in areas at risk of flooding should give priority to the use of SuDS and demonstrate that the proposed development does not increase flood risk downstream to third parties.
Detailed desktop reports, such as GeoSmart’s SuDSmart reports, are designed to explore suitable SuDS options for any new development site and clearly identify and outline a site’s infiltration suitability (low, moderate, high) on a highly accurate 50m grid. This information provides vital support to property developers during the early stages of planning in creating and evaluating an appropriate drainage design for a site.
Ultimately for developers, accessing the wealth of support available to them provides them with a much clearer and more comprehensive understanding of the proposed development site, which means more suitable planning applications and a clearer indentification of risks required by regulators, conveyancers and lenders.
GeoSmart Information delivers insight on environmental risk and suitability for property development. As our landscape and climate continually changes, we are the smarter choice for professionals who need to build and protect property in a sustainable way. As a sister company of ESI, one of the UK’s leading environmental consultancies, our innovative range of desktop reports, data and services is built on a rich heritage of scientific analysis, which enables smarter, more informed decisions.