The industry faces the prospect of more sports pitches being created on contaminated land as virgin sites are snapped up by developers as prime building land. So, what are the issues surrounding the use of brownfield sites, and where does the ultimate responsibility lie?
If Sport England succeeds in its mission to lure a million more people into participating in sport by 2012, the chances are that we'll need more space and facilities to accommodate them, whether indoors or out.
Recreational land, created under the 106 ruling under which developers have to set aside a certain hectarage for such use as part of the planning process when they want to build housing settlements, may be in shorter supply in future, because of austerity measures and the scrapping of local housing targets by the Coalition's communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles.
What the industry faces, therefore, is the prospect of more sports pitches being created on so-called brownfield sites - those once used largely for industry. There are plenty about by all accounts, particularly in urban areas. However, the process of redeveloping them for sporting and recreational use can be complex.
Little wonder that developers prefer virgin land on which to build: there is unlikely to be any skeletons falling out of the metaphorical cupboard.
It's an issue on the minds of sports contractors certainly, who are keen to construct latest generation playing surfaces, but who do not want to find something nasty in the ground when they lay foundations and install drainage systems.
"Land availability is becoming more of an issue," confirms Colin Young, Technical and Training Manager of SAPCA, the Sports and Contractors Association, which represents those who build many of Britain's natural and synthetic sports pitches.
"Depending on the size of the project, a contractor may, in turn, subcontract the job of site investigation to a specialist consultant. If the job is a design and build one though, the contractor will probably include that aspect of the job within their remit."
Typically, such investigations will culminate in a report on the soil conditions, crucial in order to ensure aspects such as drainage are laid to the necessary specifications, and a history of the site to gauge what, if any, adverse materials may affect its adoption for sport or recreation.
"Whoever conducts them, checks and site surveys are essential to ensure the site is fit for purpose," Colin adds. "Old landfill sites might be liable to gas release or subsidence for example and, to rectify those issues, could add significantly to the cost of the project by anything from 50 to 100%.
Prior knowledge of the history of the site places a duty of care on the club or operator to inform developers or contractors, Colin continues. Those delivering a design and build project that includes inspections will be protected by professional indemnity, giving the client added reassurance that, even if something untoward turns up underground, they are shielded from a hefty bill to put matters right or a fine if litigation ensues.
"Local authorities will usually have the results of site inspections to hand," Colin says. "Some have an in-house landscape architect department, whilst any good contractor will know their responsibilities for conducting surveys. However, many smaller clubs may not have the resources, so must rely on contracting in a consultant for traditional builds."
As the plum sites are snapped up for development, pressure is building for playing fields to be 'concreted over' for development, leaving brownfield sites for sporting use. The Fields in Trust body is currently mounting a campaign to safeguard such sporting heritage, and its regional offices are mounting a rearguard action to prevent more pitches disappearing.
Even before the recent austerity cuts were announced, Sport England was tightening up its terms of funding the governing bodies of sport, who had to demonstrate that they were actively seeking greater participation among the population.
But, as Colin points out, "Most governing bodies will prefer new facilities to be located in easily accessible areas - urban conurbations usually. Developers will build new estates and housing on the best land and there is a greater priority placed on providing living space. Such land offers less risk of contamination than brownfield sites."
So, it seems sport may have to compromise on the quality of land that playing surfaces are built upon.
The process of ensuring a proposed sports site is investigated proceeds along a clear cut path, according to Rob Everett, the head of the sportsturf design team at the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).
"We first establish the nature and extent of the investigation that the sports club, school or community facility wants completing, then agree a fee," Rob explains. "We look at the site and assess the conditions, whether green or brownfield, as part of a normal feasibility study which the client has to conduct, whether the site is contaminated or not."
"That survey then points the way for further investigations, if necessary, that will include pH readings, soil type and drainage and which will further explore the issues identified in the initial report."
Greenfield sites "usually haven't been touched", Rob says, "however, we receive quite a few inquiries for brownfield site surveys."
More extensive investigations will also include digging trial holes to determine what type of material lies underneath the topsoil and whether it may be contaminated and be hazardous to health.
Samples for testing are submitted to one or more specialist laboratories scattered across the UK. "They'll be testing the soil type, particle size and hydro conductivity for example," Rob continues. Other laboratories may focus on detecting heavy metal content - a sign of former industrial activity - and asbestos.
STRI can research the history of a site, but only so far back, he adds. "Sites used for the burning and burial of animal carcasses during the outbreak of foot and mouth that hit Britain last decade will be identified and registered." Details of sites used for earlier outbreaks though may have more 'hazy' provenance, he admits, "although we wouldn't have a problem with natural degradation."
A service such as Envirocheck will reveal the location of possibly problematic sites and can trace the history as far back as the 1800s, if necessary.
Everything may not always be as it seems on the surface, however. "A look at old Ordnance Survey maps might indicate a green field where a sports site is proposed, but then, later, a small factory might have sprung up, then been demolished after use, leaving a site that may have rubble lying underneath the surface."
The rural 'black economy' may have played its part in muddying the waters as small undesignated sites have come and gone, leaving nothing to show on the surface, but possibly something more sinister buried beneath it. However, "even excavating trial holes may not hit the right spot," Rob concedes.
Since the 1960s, colliery spoil heaps and other industrial waste have been managed and relandscaped, particularly in South-west Yorkshire and South Wales, to become usefully deployed as parkland or performance sport facilities.
Some reclamation projects are huge - hundreds of millions of pounds in the case of Polkemmet, the site of a former steel works in Scotland, now transformed into a mix of golf courses, sports pitches and housing.
Projects valued over £300,000 require a waste management plan that includes details of the materials to be used for construction of the facility, Rob explains. "Material that needs to be taken off site will be transported to an authorised tip. Some sites can deal with contaminated material and, the nastier it becomes, the more specialised the site is." And there are other implications. "The cost of tipping material can rise quite dramatically when it is highly contaminated, but nothing can go offsite until its composition is identified.
Industrial waste has come in handy in the construction of many a sports facility - ash and clinker from power stations and blast furnaces have formed the foundations of bowling greens and golf courses (used because of their free-draining properties) - one of the latter was laid over old mine workings and later suffered several instances of subsidence.
"It all forms part of the risk assessment of a site," Rob stresses. "You have to adopt a highly objective viewpoint. Depending on the findings from the laboratory tests, we may advise the client not to proceed with the project because we believe the costs of decontaminating the site may make the project uneconomical."
Legislation governing contaminated land, how to deal with it and how to safeguard those working with it, started to bite as the new millennium dawned.
Projects proceeding since then have been subject to a whole host of regulatory constraints, limiting the risk of any 'backlash' from potentially hazardous sites once they have been redeveloped.
Most recently, in 2007, the Construction, Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2007 came into force, putting the onus of responsibility on the client to provide sufficient resources to ensure contractors are not put at risk in any way when on site - by excavating unstable or contaminated land, for example.
"The client has to appoint a CDM co-ordinator, an engineering consultant for example, early on in any project, requiring 500 man-hours or more to complete," Rob explains.
Polluted land was an issue few had considered worth worrying about in the UK, being more at home in post-Soviet nations with the issues of nuclear contamination.
Yet, Britain has a substantial and, potentially worrying, legacy of chemical contaminants, especially those found in soil. Sometimes, the contaminants may be present, often resulting from human, industrial and domestic pollution. Mostly, the level of contaminants is sufficiently low to pose no risk. Sometimes, the risks to human health or the environment can be significant. It is when such risks exist that land is considered to be 'contaminated'.
Contaminated land legislation, which formed part of Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, was first introduced in 1995, coming into force five years later in 2000.
The primary aim of Part 2A was to provide a means of finding and dealing with England's substantial legacy of land contamination, and the risks that it can pose to people's health and the environment.
As a result, local authorities and any private firm developing on land are required to identify any contaminated land and ensure that its associated risks are properly dealt with.
The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has introduced a wide range of policies to tackle land contamination, which fall into two broad areas. First, measures to find and deal with existing contaminated land and second, those to prevent more contaminated land being created.
In dealing with existing contaminated land, there are two main types of site to be addressed. First, those where a 'voluntary' solution is appropriate. Often, land is remediated and being redeveloped, or landowners want to increase the utility and value of their land. Second, sites where a voluntary solution is unlikely.
Such cases would include contaminated sites developed without being cleaned up, sites where remediation would be too expensive, and those where the polluter and/or the current owner is unwilling to deal with the problem voluntarily.
It is on these types of sites where contaminated land legislation comes into force, and where DEFRA is keen to make the biggest headway and, ultimately, has the biggest interest. Some sites, such as playing fields, may pose a significant threat to sports enthusiasts, while those managing them may be unaware of the risks, because action to build them may have already gone ahead before legislation came into force.
Who does what?
There are six main players from government departments, agencies and local authorities who oversee and deliver policy on contaminated land.
Local authorities are the principal regulators, identifying potentially contaminated land within their boundaries and being responsible for deciding whether land it is 'contaminated' as defined within the law.
DEFRA oversees contaminated land legislation (Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act) and policy associated with it such as negotiation of the proposed EU Soil Framework Directive.
The department also runs the Contaminated Land Capital Projects Programme, which, managed by the Environment Agency, assists local authorities in investigating and remediating contaminated land in England. Successful applicants will receive from DEFRA the capital cost of implementing the contaminated land regime under Part 2A.
The Department for Communities and Local Government oversees the planning system, including how land contamination should be dealt with under planning law.
The Environment Agency (EA) assumes two main roles - it acts as the Government's principal scientific and technical adviser on contaminated land and, as part of this role, has produced government-backed non-statutory technical guidance on various aspects of contaminated land. The Agency also assesses any applications made under DEFRA's Contaminated Land Capital Projects Programme. The EA also works as the regulator of 'special sites' under the Part 2A regime.
The Health Protection Association (HPA) acts as the Government's principal scientific and technical adviser on the impact on health of toxic substances, working closely with the EA and the Food Standards Agency on producing technical guidance on contaminated land. The HPA also provides advice to local authorities in relation to specific cases of land contamination.
The final main player is non-departmental governing body, Natural England, which can provide advice on the impacts of land contamination on biodiversity and the natural environment, and which works closely with the EA on these matters.
If a site is found to be contaminated, it's important to know exactly what will be expected of whom and how a site will be affected while work is carried out to remediate it.
Under law, a site will be obliged to meet a duty of care to those working on it, especially as contaminants in the land could have detrimental effects on health.
The appropriate regulations are set out in the CDM measures, which ensure that working conditions are healthy and safe before work begins and that the proposed schedule of work is not going to put others at risk.
The original CDM regulations were introduced in 1994, but concerns over their complexity and the bureaucratic approach of many 'duty-holders' (those with legal responsibilities), who were uncertain about how the measures applied to them, frustrated the application of health and safety objectives.
An industry-wide consultation followed in 2002, leading to a revision of the regulations, introduced in 2007, bringing together the original measures and the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996 into a single regulatory package.
Who are you?
The term 'duty-holder' embraces a catalogue of terms, including client, CDM coordinator, designer, principal contractor, contractor or worker. The client is anyone having construction or building work carried out as part of their business. A CDM co-ordinator has to be appointed to advise the client on projects that, as Rob Everett outlined, last more than 30 days or involve 500 man-days of construction work.
Designer relates to the function performed, rather than the profession or job title. Designers are those who, as part of their work, prepare design drawings, specifications, bills of quantities and the specification of articles and substances. The term could include architects, engineers and quantity surveyors.
The principal contractor's role is to plan, manage and co-ordinate health and safety whilst construction work is being undertaken, and is usually the main or managing contractor for the work.
A contractor is a business involved in construction, alteration, maintenance or demolition work and could involve building, civil engineering, mechanical, electrical, demolition and maintenance companies, partnerships and the self-employed.
A worker could be, for example, a plumber, electrician, scaffolder, painter, decorator, steel erector, as well as those supervising the work, such as a foreman or charge hand.
Before development work begins, knowing what environmental factors may have an impact on the site in the short and long time is crucial. Issues like contaminated land, but also subsidence, and flooding, can have a hugely detrimental impact on the viability of a project and development plans.
While investigation for sites that are at risk from having contaminated land do exist via the government agencies and non-governmental bodies already mentioned, this can be costly to either a club or a local authority.
Another option is the Envirocheck service, which gives broad access to environmental risk information and provides 'comprehensive, accurate and high quality current and historical information' for those wanting to know whether a site has contaminants on it.
Specifically relating to contaminated land, the Envirocheck service offers a soils site report, produced by Cranfield University's National Soil Resources Institute.
The report identifies and describes the properties and capacities of the soil at a specified location, as recorded in the National Soil Map for England and Wales, and will tell a client whether there are contaminants and what they are.