UK and Germany are rising to the brownfield land challenge

Development of brownfield sites has become the norm in the UK over the last 10 years as the availability of greenfield land has become more constrained. This creates challenges, especially in cases of sites where there are historic buildings with complex foundations or if old mine workings are present, as BE Design co-founder Stephen Oakden pointed out.

Such challenges have helped his firm to understand how to view such situations with a circular economy approach and seek opportunities to reuse building elements, Oakden told Real Asset Insight’s Richard Betts.

And it is not just a matter of recycling a few doors. “I’m talking about actually taking structural elements and finding a way of reprocessing steel and finding a way of crushing concrete so we can reuse it.”

However, Oakden points out that “tonnage” is a critical factor. “If we’re moving tonnage away from a site and then bringing it back, it’s actually not very environmentally sound.”

BE Design has worked on this in the UK and is starting to see a similar situation emerging in Germany. “They’ve had the luxury of greenfield sites up until about five years ago but there’s been this slow turning of the tap and greenfield sites are no longer available.”

“That’s certainly a big part of where we’re seeing advantage. What we can bring to the German market is our knowledge of how to deal with these very complicated sites.”

While much of the complexity is below ground level, innovations such as use of timber and modular design are helping with the above-ground portion of projects BE Design has been comparing construction techniques in Europe to the UK to pinpoint where embedded carbon savings can be made. There is definitely a synergy, he said.

“There are certainly things that we think we could take to back to the UK from the German market and things we can bring back to Germany from what we’re doing in the UK.”

However, one challenge is that funds can be set on delivering a specific building type in a specific region. “We’ve worked for the same fund in Germany and in the UK and yet they won’t let us build a German building in the UK or a UK building in Germany. I think funds still need some education here.”