Brownfield Remediation - Best Practice in the Education Sector

Chris Holmes
Undertaking remediation on a brownfield site to prepare it for a new development requires careful planning to ensure a smooth project start on site.

An efficient and streamlined process can also help to save costs and avoid pitfalls further down the line. Our management of the remediation process of the former Springfield Brewery site in Wolverhampton, to create a built environment super campus for the University of Wolverhampton, is a good example of remediation best practice.

Site history

The 12-acre site was developed as a brewery in 1878 and brewing continued until 1990. After this time, the site became derelict and was then ravaged by a fire in 2004 which destroyed much of its historic structure. There was an attempt to redevelop the site in 2008 for residential purposes until a further fire ravaged the remaining buildings.

Fast forward to 2014 and the site was purchased by the university with plans to create Europe’s largest specialist construction and built environment campus, bringing together businesses and the education sector to maximise impact on the surrounding economy.

Given the site’s history, remediation needed to be carried out for the university’s ambitious plans to be realised.


Appropriate surveys are paramount on brownfield sites to determine the most cost-effective way to remediate a site. Early surveys also help determine an appropriate cost level within a cost plan, together with a suitable level of contingency. It’s very important not to underestimate the amount of time these surveys take and to programme them early enough with sufficient depth of analysis to inform the site remediation approach. There is always a pressure to spend as little as possible until development plans are fixed, however this can leave significant gaps in understanding of the site context and lead to an underestimation both in time and cost of the works necessary to successfully develop the site.

As part of our remediation management role, we selected the surveying companies and managed the survey process. Surveys undertaken included ground investigations, sonar and ecology surveys. The surveys were essential to determine the condition of the site and to appropriately plan the enabling works and contractor selection.

Our surveys commenced in September 2017 with six months’ worth of surveys undertaken prior to selecting the contractor.

Enabling works

In conjunction with the client, and to minimise the construction risks to be passed to the eventual main contractor, we took the decision to de-risk the site through two enabling contracts, one for remediation and one for demolition. This meant the main contractors, when tendering, were left with a lower residual risk profile and were able to submit a competitive tender for the work which included a more realistic and sensible contingency associated with site unknowns.

 Our pragmatic approach to the enabling works ensured we received value for money competitive tender returns from the tendering contractors without passing undue amounts of risk into the building contract.

Additional considerations

Since the surveys and enabling works take time, sites can further deteriorate, therefore it’s important that site protection is robust enough to avoid unnecessary expense through having to remove things such as excessive vegetation. It’s imperative to stay on top of site maintenance to save time and cost in the long run.

Brownfield remediation is a sensitive issue with site neighbours, even more so in this instance where our neighbours were students ranging between the ages of 14-19 attending The West Midlands Construction University Technical College. This meant that as well as the active measures taken such as dust suppression, hosing down, mist sprays to site perimeters and air monitoring reassurance testing at regular intervals, it was also essential to maintain regular dialogue with this important neighbour, ensuring they understood the works being undertaken and the associated timescales. Neighbour liaison is imperative to maintain trust and good relationships.

Other things to consider when undertaking brownfield site remediation is not underestimating the cost of securing the site. For example, the costs of security, signage, scaffolding, fencing, glass breakages, boarding up and redecoration/repairs up until contract possession can soon add up so it’s important to factor these costs in early when developing the project cost plan.

Next steps

The enabling works are due for completion in October 2018, with main contractor selection for the new build works now complete and start on site immediately after completion of the enabling works.

Our careful planning and practical approach to the site remediation has ensured that costs have been adhered to and timescales for start on site will be met. Our approach also means that when the main contractor starts the groundworks, they will have confidence that there is very little residual risk remaining within the development area.

The SOABE scheme will open ready for teaching to commence during the 2019/2020 academic term.

For more information about the transformation of the former Springfield Brewery, visit our timeline.

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