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Breathing new life into a brownfield site

brownfield site

The benefits of building your home on a brownfield site

I believe it’s an environmental imperative that we build more houses on suitable brownfield sites.  As an architect, with a building services engineering husband, both motivated to deliver low-carbon design, we’ve always harboured a dream to build our own environmentally-friendly family home on a brownfield site.

When we moved from London to the South Coast, we spent a long time looking for the perfect urban plot to realise our dreams.  When we finally found the site tucked away in between some houses in the picturesque harbour town of Emsworth, we knew we had hit upon something special.  The plot contained some existing buildings which we knew would have to come down but the rather unassuming space showed promise and three years (and hard graft later), we opened up our doors to our new family home.

You can hear about our journey to build our very own passivhaus home in a recent interview I gave to Ben Adam Smith of House Planning Help here.

Whether you are exploring the option to build on a brownfield site or have yet to be persuaded of its merits, I wanted to share some thoughts and tips on developing brownfield sites and why you should consider them.

Firstly, what is a brownfield site?

In the UK, a brownfield site is defined as “previously developed land” that has the potential for being redeveloped. It is often (but not always) land that has been used for industrial and commercial purposes and is now derelict and possibly contaminated.

What are the benefits of building on brownfield sites?

There are so many benefits to building on a Brownfield Site from encouraging green energy, defending the countryside, reducing urban sprawl and supporting our local farmers.  It can also be easier to get planning approval for a brownfield site development.  In our case, it meant that we were instantly part of an established community and we loved that.

Is it a struggle to build on a brownfield site?

Speaking from experience, it’s not that difficult and to make the process even smoother, I’ve shared my top tips with you.

7 things you should consider before you build on a brownfield site

  1. Invest in a professional Ground Investigation assessment – our site was 380sqm, and the assessment cost about £4,000.
  2. If you have any contamination, make sure you know the cost of remediation. In the last few years, several new and exciting remediation technologies have started to emerge, which are relatively low-cost compared to traditional processes, and also benefit the environment e.g. Bioremediation, phytoremediation or in-situ chemical oxidation.
  3. Don’t purchase the site until you’ve done the Ground Investigation and know the price for remediation.
  4. Recycle or reuse as much existing material as you can. For example, we knocked down a commercial garage, and recycled the bricks into hardcore, and re-used the steel beams in our own garage.
  5. Use good design to minimise the amount of material removed from site. Carefully consider building levels and think creatively about landscape features (berms/mounds) to retain material onsite. This reduces cost.
  6. Consider an enabling works contract to de-risk the building programme. And always use a reputable and specialist contractor.
  7. Give something back – we used Wild Flower Meadow and Sedum Roofs to increase the biodiversity of the site and designed the timber rain-screen cladding as a haven for bugs.

I count myself incredibly lucky, sitting here in my home, which I not only designed but now get to enjoy with family and friends, I would actively encourage anyone out there who is thinking about building their own home on a brownfield site.  Let’s positively try and re-use brownfield sites – they are a tangible vision of hope for the future.

If you would like help or advice on the planning, design and build process on a brownfield site, we would love to help.  Contact Ruth Butler on 01243 379783 or


Read more about the importance of building on Brownfield Sites here

Hampshire Passivhaus
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