According to the then Secretary of State, in November 2016 the Ministry of Defence estate covers almost 2% of the United Kingdom’s land mass—an area almost three times the size of Greater London. In March 2016 the Secretary of State for Defence announced “an ambitious programme of estate rationalisation” and identified 10 sites for release from the Defence Estate that would generate some £1billion and contribute up to 55,000 homes. These sites included barracks, training land, former RAF maintenance unit, fighter airfield and other former land uses. Other sites have been added to the list.
Under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, certain defence related activities would result in a determined contaminated land to be a special site.
Many defence activities, past and present, have or have had the potential to contaminate land. Such contamination could be of the sort encountered on non-military post-industrial brownfield sites – heavy metals, fuels, solvents, asbestos. However, there are also contaminants particularly associated with defence related former land uses: explosive ordnance from WWI and WWII aerial bombardment, munitions, pyrotechnics, firefighting agents, chemical weapon residues, propellants, radioactive luminescent paint.
For example, chemical weapons (CW) contamination is mainly associated with burial or burning pits, generally on current or former MoD (Ministry of Defence) and MoS (Ministry of Supply) land. CW agents were produced at only a small number of known sites in the UK. However, containerised or weaponised CW agents may be present on any MoD site since during WWII CW munitions were distributed widely rather than being concentrated at production and storage sites or the few Forward Filling Depots (FFD) as had been thought previously.
Explosives sites were built for both military and commercial use. Military explosives sites mainly manufactured explosives or involved ammunition filling with activity peaking during the two world wars and the Korean conflict. The period when a specific site was operating may indicate the types of explosives that could be present in the soil. Such sites are found across the entire UK but the largest sites had good access to the rail network.
Former military sites will contribute much of the new housing over the coming years. Ensuring future residents will be safe and demonstrating that the land is suitable for this sensitive land use requires a sound understanding of the nature and distribution of contamination across a site. Whether a naval dockyard, former air-force base or army barracks, understanding how a site has been used is an essential pre-requisite to developing an informed conceptual site model and designing an appropriate sampling and analytical strategy as well as eventually designing a successful remediation strategy.
Whether former aircraft hangars, vehicle maintenance, ordnance depots, weapons manufacture or fuel storage, military sites are an important part of securing safe and suitable for use land for new homes. Their rural or peri-urban location makes them very attractive to future residents – and therefore developers.
The topic of our next Professional Practice Webinar is Redeveloping Military Sites. The webinar will discuss the unique sources of contamination and unusual pathways that are present on military sites, review key sources of information, describe established and emerging methods of remediating military sites. LQM will be delivering this webinar at 1-3pm on 21 November 2018. You are most welcome to book a place via https://www.lqm.co.uk/webinars/rmsweb/