Conceptual definitions of brownfields and strategies of their regeneration

For brownfields, there is no legally binding definition in Germany. Instead of brownfields, the legislative focus is on precautions that must be taken to avoid the occurrence of harmful changes to the soil – i.e. on (potential) contamination.

Possible definitions for brownfield sites, applied (rather in theory than in regulation) in Germany, are from the CABERNET project (based on the CLARINET definition): “Sites that have been affected by the former uses of the site and surrounding land; are derelict and underused; may have real or perceived contamination problems; are mainly in developed urban areas; and require intervention to bring them back to beneficial use.”[1]  

The Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR) defined in a report from the project “City of the future” urban brownfields as: “Formerly commercial, military, infrastructure used area that has not been used for at least one year and where from an urban planning point of view a re-use should follow.”[2]

Taking this definition of contaminated sites, regeneration could be understood narrowly as remediation. According to the Federal Soil Protection Act (BBodSchG) remediation according to article 2(7) refers to measures:

  1. to eliminate or reduce pollutants (decontamination measures),
  2. that prevent or reduce spreading of pollutants in a lasting way, without eliminating the pollutants themselves (securing containment measures),
  3. that eliminate or reduce harmful changes in the soil's physical, chemical or biological characteristics.

This approach can be understood as a national strategy for regeneration (in a narrow understanding) of contaminated brownfields connected with Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance (BBodSchV), which contains legally fixed regulations on assessment and remediation of contaminated sites in Germany.[3] The German federal states (Länder) have different subordinated laws (and ordinances) that complement federal law.[4] The purpose of this Federal Soil Protection Act (BBodSchG) is to protect or restore the functions of the soil on a permanent sustainable basis. These actions shall include prevention of harmful soil changes (to the soil), rehabilitation of the soil, of contaminated sites and of waters contaminated by such sites; and precautions against negative soil impacts.

Several actors are important with regard to the strategies and regulation of contaminated land regeneration on the Länder- and federal level in Germany. With regard to the concrete use and re-use of contaminated sites, the environmental ministries and the subordinated agencies on Länder, country or municipality level are of most importance next to the urban-planning authorities. For elaborating the strategic policies the Federal / State Working Group on Soil Protection (LABO) is key player[5]. It is a committee of the conference of Länder’s Ministers of the Environment, where the responsible higher authorities of the state and federal level work together, to discuss issues relating to their tasks allocation and cooperation, to develop solutions and make recommendations enhancing the development of soil conservation and soil protection regulation and supporting the exchange of experiences between the federal and state governments. Many guidance documents, manuals, directives etc., pertaining to brownfield regeneration are produced and published by different institutions, e.g. next to LABO by so-called LAGA[6], LAWA[7] and by “Länder” as well as by associations such as “Bodenbündnis europäischer Städte, Kreise und Gemeinden – European Land and Soil Alliance (ELSA) e.V.”[8]. On the non-governmental side, the Ingenieurtechnischer Verband für Altlastenmanagement und Flächenrecycling e.V. (ITVA)[9] [the German Scientific-technical Association for Environmental Remediation and Brownfield Redevelopment] is main actor addressing brownfield revitalization at the national and regional levels.