Obtaining regulatory sign-off for a soil and/or groundwater remediation project is a key target for many brownfield professionals. The breadth of investigation, advice, expertise, consultation and engagement involved in the design and undertaking of remediation can be extremely significant and the receipt of regulatory approval for the completion of such works often marks a significant milestone. However, for our Strategic Land and Regeneration team, who execute the role of master developer, the end of the remediation stage often marks the beginning of a much wider brownfield regeneration phase involving the implementation of place-making and the creation of communities on such recycled land. It is within this ‘post remediation’ phase that we, St. Modwen, submit our public engagement entry.
Successful sustainable brownfield regeneration involves an appreciation of the ultimate end users of the land, and, as a land developer, we need to understand who those users are, how they live, work, travel and enjoy the spaces that we, as a brownfield regeneration specialist, have created for them. To be truly sustainable, we need to understand how the end-user’s needs might evolve, over time. We put our communities at the heart of our engagement and have communicated directly with the residents that are living within some of our large brownfield regeneration schemes to find out how we are doing in our quest for sustainability and in a bid to establish what sort of impression we might be leaving behind.
We, as St. Modwen Strategic Land and Regeneration, wanted to engage with the communities that chose to make our brownfield schemes their home. We wanted to find out how they experience living on brownfield land, long after the remediation technologies have been removed and the diggers have demobilised. In undertaking this public participation, we wanted to explore the legacy of our work; what have we created? Have we been successful in our endeavours to bring land back into beneficial use? And what can we learn through engaging with our communities?
The backdrop of the global health pandemic gave St. Modwen a great opportunity to engage further with our communities. As such, in February 2021, we encouraged and challenged the residents living within six of our major brownfield regeneration sites to get outside and embrace the spaces and environments that we have created for them, and we launched our “Love” theme. The objective of the Love theme was to encourage residents to actively engage and shape the developments and communities that they live within, and for them to record and feedback their experiences through a photography challenge. As developers, we also saw the initiative as an opportunity for our project teams to actively engage and have personal contact (socially distanced of course) with residents, something that is so often lost between developers and residents.
In undertaking this engagement, the St. Modwen team wanted to understand several questions. Is brownfield regeneration really working? Is tackling land dereliction, fronting the cost of clean-up, riding out the programme delays, the unforeseen contamination and the various risks, the extensive stakeholder liaison, the reporting, the sign-off, is it all worth it?
What would our communities say...?
The Six Brownfield Sites
Our “Love” theme was rolled out across six developments. Locking Parklands, Hilton, St. Andrew’s Park and Meon Vale are all former Ministry of Defence sites which have required soil and groundwater remediation of asbestos, hydrocarbons and heavy metals in order to render the land suitable for re-use. Glan Llyn, which is a former steel works site located near Newport in Wales, has required remediation to treat a legacy of contaminants including polyaromatic and petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals and high pH.
Montage of Locking Parklands, Longbridge, Hilton and Glan Llyn
Longbridge is one of our most high-profile schemes with a manufacturing legacy of over 100 years. Historic industrial activities had left above ground and below ground tunnels, an underground hospital and a wartime bunker. Redevelopment and regeneration of the land is ongoing and, to date, has involved extensive soil and groundwater remediation.
The six sites are at various stages in the development cycle and some are nearing completion. All six sites have established healthy residential communities and plentiful blue and green spaces.
The LOVE Theme
The Love theme included a number of community engagement activities such as;
Initiatives to encourage our residents to actively engage with nature
The creation of estate newsletters, websites and place books, to communicate
a ‘design your own playground’ competition,
the introduction of place maps, designed to show residents how the development fits in with the wider community
an Easter bulletin packed full of suggested activities for bank holidays, the transformation of a former radio wing building into a local COVID vaccination centre
Promotion of physical activity on our regenerated brownfield land, and provided links to Walking Britain, Cycling UK and Plot a Route for the more strenuous exercise-lovers.
Our sign off message was to leave no trace; to take only photos and leave only footprints.
a photography competition to enable us to see our developments through the eyes of the residents
We are particularly proud of the numerous activities we have designed to encourage our residents to engage with nature. These have included initiatives such as participation in the ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ where our residents made plans with friends and family to take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey, all from the comfort of their own homes. We provided our residents with home-made complimentary ‘bird pizza activity kits’ which were then hand delivered (whilst maintaining social distancing rules) to all residents. We have provided numerous ideas on how to keep our younger residents occupied and we have promoted links to the Woodland Trust activity sheets, scavenger hunts and other activities which would enable children to immerse themselves in the natural and biodiverse spaces that we have created across our developments.
Bird Pizza Kits
Finally, we initiated a photography challenge which involved asking our communities to document, through photographs, their experiences of living within our developments so we can see what we have created, through their eyes.
Community Newsletter from February 2021
Community Participation and Results
The results of our engagement, put quite simply, were overwhelming. We received almost 200 photograph competition entries across our sites, demonstrating not only a clear willingness to engage but, above all else, we noticed a real sense of pride emerging from the photographs and thus from the residents living within our brownfield developments.
We saw children, families, pets and wildlife enjoying land that once previously stood sterile. We found out about resident peacocks that had made Locking Parklands their home. We saw attractive new housing and sleek employment spaces now sitting over previously derelict landscapes and we saw nature flourishing in the green spaces that we have created over challenging areas of brownfield land. We saw the beauty in what we have worked so tirelessly to create over many years and we saw laughter and love in the communities that had made these spaces their home. We saw, through these photographs, how all of our communities are not just living, but thriving… and it made us feel proud. A further selection of the engagement entries are shown below:
What St. Modwen have learned through our Public Engagement
This form of engagement has galvanised our efforts and intentions to put the delivery of sustainable communities and green spaces at the core of what we do. The feedback we have received through this vital engagement has demonstrated to us the importance of sustainable brownfield regeneration which, if executed appropriately, can bring significant societal rewards and environmental benefits. We have, thus far, succeeded in breathing life into our communities, and have delivered on our objectives. Moving forward, we intend to continue our engagement with our residents to help shape the places that they want to live in.