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Luxembourg, 18 April 2013

“Brownfield” sites: better planning needed if clean-ups are to work, say EU Auditors

A new report from the European Court of Auditors, the EU spending watchdog, calls on the European Commission to improve the running of regeneration projects on so-called “brownfield” sites – former industrial and military areas which are often derelict and contaminated.

The Auditors found that results could have been achieved at a reduced cost to national and EU budgets because the need for public funding was not always established and rules governing EU funded regeneration projects do not sufficiently allow public money to be clawed back if projects generate more revenue than expected. They also found that the ‘polluter pays’ principle has not been fully applied so that national and EU funds have borne part of the cost of environmental clean-ups.

The number of brownfield sites in Europe is estimated to range from a few hundred in small Member States to a few hundred thousand in larger Member States with a rich industrial past. ERDF and Cohesion funds have co-financed regeneration projects to promote the re-use of these sites as well as to protect human health and the environment and mitigate urban sprawl.

While most projects successfully transform the sites, say the Auditors, in many cases the redeveloped land and buildings is not being used as planned and job creation has been lower than expected. This was in part because not enough attention was paid to the need for sound market analysis but also because of the economic downturn.

“The legacy of pollution on brownfield sites in the EU remains a significant challenge. EU co-financed regeneration projects have delivered the transformations they promised, but progress has often been slow and fewer jobs have been created. The polluter pays principle has proved all but impossible to apply in practice and there are insufficient mechanisms for public authorities to claw back investments if projects generate more revenues than expected’, said Henri Grethen, the ECA member responsible for the report, “Against this background, cleaning up historic pollution will probably still need to be paid for out of public funds.”

In all Member States visited by the Auditors, spatial planning instruments are used to implement brownfield policy, many of which promote aspects of good practice. However, the setting of priorities is complicated by the fact that brownfield site registers are not always maintained. According to the Auditors, Structural Funds regulations should require that brownfield development projects are based on integrated development plans and more should be done to promote the re-use of brownfield sites over the development of greenfield sites. All projects had some good characteristics regarding longer-term sustainability, but the results of environmental remediation works were not always appropriately certified and there are wide differences between national soil contamination screening values.

The purpose of this press release is to give the main messages of the special report adopted by the European Court of Auditors. The full report is on


Aidas Palubinskas

Press Officer European Court of Auditors

Desk: +352 4398 45410 Mobile: +352 621 552224 Twitter: @EUAuditorsECA

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