Further investigation required into impact of brownfield sites on coastal regeneration

A greater understanding of brownfield or derelict sites could enhance the social and economic regeneration of coastal towns and cities, a study suggests.

New research by Plymouth University says there are many examples globally of successful waterfront developments – including Baltimore, Gothenburg, Hamburg and Liverpool.

But many communities struggle to overcome the challenges and barriers associated with derelict coastal land and, for a variety of reasons, developments never get off the ground or are left incomplete.

Researchers believe a more joined-up approach involving policy-makers, developers, planners and the communities themselves – alongside enhanced use of existing databases – could result in more sustainable developments that deliver a wide range of lasting benefits.

The research, published in Planning Practice and Research, was conducted by the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Dr Stephen Essex, Associate Professor in Geography and one of the study’s authors, said:

“With around half the world’s population living within 60 km of the sea, understanding the challenges of coastal urbanization and regeneration has become an important element of urban planning. Coastal settlements, whether rooted in port, defence or tourism economies, have experienced considerable economic, social and environmental change over the last 30-40 years. Brownfield sites are strategically valuable, but can be constrained, and identifying a way to overcome those restrictions could have an overwhelmingly positive impact for coastal communities globally.”

The study focused on 54 local authorities in England that are considered to be both coastal and urban in nature, with 11 in the North West, ten in the South West, eight in the North East and seven in the East of England.

Researchers studied the discontinued National Land Use Database (NLUD) of previously developed land, which revealed these areas included 5,267 brownfield sites covering an area of 8,832.15ha in 2009. Over half of these were now vacant and could be developed without treatment, while a further quarter were either already in use or allocated in local plans.

In addition, the study sought the attitudes and opinions of planning professionals towards the challenge of the regeneration of brownfield land, with many identifying land values, environmental hazards and ecological concerns among the reasons that sites had not been developed.

They cited changes to government funding and agency structures – such as the scrapping of Regional Development Agencies – as having contributed to schemes being discontinued, adding that economic circumstances and frequent policy shifts have impeded the redevelopment of brownfield land on the coast and forced greater pressure onto greenfield sites.

In their conclusion, the academics say:

“Despite an acknowledgement by governments that brownfield development can tackle social, economic and environmental issues, many barriers confront the redevelopment of these sites. The findings from the research point to the need for more detailed investigations into the opportunities and constraints of using brownfield land to deliver sustainable towns and cities on the coast, especially given the recessionary and low growth conditions which have prevailed since 2008.”

  • Craig Leger, Christopher Balch & Stephen Essex (2016) Understanding the Planning Challenges of Brownfield Development in Coastal Urban Areas of England, Planning Practice & Research, 31:2, 119-131, DOI: 10.1080/02697459.2016.1146428.

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Dr Stephen Essex

Dr Stephen Essex’s research has included the formulation and effectiveness of planning policy, the planning and implementation of mega events such as the Olympic Games, and the role of local authorities in sustainable tourism.

Dr Essex is Associate Professor (Reader) in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences and a researcher in urban and rural planning.

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Professor Christopher Balch

Professor Balch is a chartered town planner and chartered surveyor with experience as a consultant in urban planning, regeneration and development. He has advised on policies and programmes and has worked on the planning and funding of major projects.

Professor Balch has developed strategies and plans for the transformation of underperforming places, including major cities and coastal towns.

Learn more about Professor Balch