Merebrook Consulting comments on unlocking the development potential of former publicly-owned land

During the Second World War, over 5.8million hectares of the UK’s land mass was committed to military use. Today, military land accounts for a smaller area than in 1850, and as strategic interests change, the Ministry of Defense continues to divest itself of significant amounts of land. Other government departments from Healthcare to Education, and Local Authorities are similarly disposing of land.

Merebrook Consulting, one of the UK’s leading ground engineering and environmental consultants urges caution for developers. The historic uses of publicly owned land and the unique conditions of ownership, mean that special care must be taken with relation to ground conditions when the sites are purchased.

Sites come onto the market with limited information available in relation to past uses which have often been confidential, self-sufficient and subject to Crown Immunity. Environmental due diligence to provide an understanding of land purchase is critical for developers, as unforeseen costs such as remediation or abnormal foundations can significantly undermine the financial viability of any project.

Merebrook Director for Environment and Science, Simon Edwards commented:

“Hazards on former publicly-owned sites include some of the most significant that exist – vendor information is often not comprehensive due to confidentiality and poor record-keeping, so land investigation and detailed assessment is vital to help avoid time delays on development projects.

“One of our recent investigations uncovered radioactive materials related to fluorescent dials and gun-sights, which although posing a relatively low environmental and health risk required careful negotiation with environmental health officers at the development stage, and which could have posed significant delays.”

The variety of contaminants is extensive on public land especially on ex MOD sites, typical contaminants include hydrocarbons associated with underground tanks or polyaromatic hydrocarbons, associated with the sub-base of roads and parade squares, but can also include asbestos, munitions, radioactive materials and chemical warfare agents.

Working across a broad range of publicly owned sites, the Merebrook team deals with chemical warfare agents, mustard gas, tear gases, radiological contamination and unexploded ordnance. They have safely facilitated the cost-effective remediation of ex-military land, unlocking the development potential of numerous ex MOD sites including; Colchester Garrison, OSD Thatcham, RAF Coningsby, RAF Rissington, RAF Watton and RNTD Hilsea and Harwell.

At due diligence stage, Merebrook advises that developers should have a clear understanding of all potential issues to help inform the bid price. This is paramount across all public owned sites with specific contamination risks including; MOD, hospitals, education, local authority, and former nationalized industries such as rail and gasworks.

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