Brownfield status is a condition, within certain legal exclusions and additions, of real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant, which may include petroleum hydrocarbon releases. Brownfield status generally means there are use or development restrictions on the site.
In town planning, brownfield land is an area of land previously used or built upon, as opposed to greenfield land which has never been built upon. Brownfield status is a legal designation which places restrictions, conditions or incentives on redevelopment.
Brownfield status by country
The primary issue facing all nations involved in attracting and sustaining new uses to brownfield sites is the recognition that new industries are globally oriented and respond to global market forces. This global economic reality directly affects brownfield reuse, such as limiting the effective economic life of the use on the revitalized sites.
United States estimates suggest there are over 500,000 brownfield sites contaminated at levels below the “Superfund” caliber (the most contaminated) in the country. While historic land use patterns created contaminated sites, the Superfund law has been criticized as creating the brownfield phenomenon where investment moves to greenfields for new development due to severe, no-fault liability schemes and other disincentives to investment. To tackle this problem, the Clinton-Gore administration and US EPA launched a series of brownfield policies and programs in 1993, taking significant steps to clean up brownfields and return them to productive use.
Canada has an estimated 200,000 contaminated sites across the nation. The provincial governments have primary responsibility for brownfields. The tools available to the provinces are limited, however, as there are no such things as “No Further Action” letters to give property owners finality and certainty in the cleanup and reuse process. Yet in spite of the limited legal mechanisms for managing risk and liability, Canada has cleaned up sites and attracted investment to contaminated lands such as the Moncton rail yards. A strip of the Texaco lands in Mississauga is slated to be part of the Waterfront Trail. However, Imperial Oil has no plans to sell the 75-acre (30 ha) property which has been vacant since the 1980s.
While Denmark lacks the large land base which creates the magnitude of brownfield issues facing countries such as Germany and the U.S., brownfield sites in areas critical to the local economies of Denmark’s cities require sophisticated solutions and careful interaction with affected communities. Examples include the cleanup and redevelopment of former and current ship building facilities along Copenhagen’s historic waterfront. Laws in Denmark require a higher degree of coordination of planning and reuse than is found in many other countries.
Germany loses greenfields at a rate of about 1.2 square kilometres per day for settlement and transportation infrastructure. Each of the approximately 14,700 local municipalities is empowered to allocate lands for industrial and commercial use. As a result, local control over reuse of brownfield sites in Germany is a critical factor in the reuse decision. Many industrial sites continue to be some distance from regular settlements, incurring costly overhead for providing infrastructure such as utilities, disposal services and transportation.
In the UK centuries of industrial use of lands which once formed the birthplace of the industrial revolution have left entire regions in a brownfield status. Of greater concern is that after 25 years of effort and billions of pounds (UK), surveys suggest only about 8 square kilometres of land has been successfully cleaned up and reused. New legislation in the UK may provide a needed incentive for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. Cleanup laws in the UK are centered on the premise that the remediation should be "fit for the purpose".