The challenges and opportunities of ‘greening’ vacant and derelict land, Mike Batley

IT sounds seductively easy, instituting a nationwide programme that seeks to convert each and every plot of vacant and derelict land into a nature reserve.

But the truth is that every single plot carries its own challenges, one of the most significant being capacity to deliver.

According to the Scottish Government’s latest Vacant and Derelict Land Survey, there were 9,236 hectares hectares of derelict and urban vacant land recorded in Scotland last year. That’s a lot of football pitches-worth.

Given the scale of the issue, communities up and down the country will be asking how they can rid themselves of nearby vacant and derelict land and the often associated blight. They will know, first hand, the impact such sites have on environmental quality and local aspirations, as well as the negative effects it can have on people’s physical and mental health.

Some may have been ‘taken to the top of the hill’, sold on what might be, only to be disappointed by subsequent inaction. While there are often perfectly valid reasons for plots of vacant and derelict land remaining untouched, potentially for decades, there can be no doubt that we need to find ways to unlock more of them.

By regenerating these sites, using nature-based solutions, not only can we provide positive outdoor spaces that benefit communities, we also address many of the wider issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

So what stands in our way? Sometimes it is difficulties identifying the true ownership of a site. On other occasions, it might be chemicals having leeched their way into the soil, meaning some form of (not inexpensive) remedial work has to take place. Then again, different organisations might have divergent ambitions for the site; it’s not always a given that everyone will agree on a single course of action. 

I’ve travelled extensively across Scotland to undertake audits of plots of vacant and derelict land, and this has given me a good understanding the scale of the challenge. One of the most significant pieces of research I have undertaken was an exploration, on behalf of the Scottish Government, of their national planning priority, the Clyde Mission.

The Clyde Mission is an innovative concept, which has set its sights on the regeneration of land just 500m either side of the River Clyde, from its source in South Lanarkshire all the way through to the mouth of the river at Gourock and Dunoon. During my research, I located around 250 plots of vacant and derelict land, around a dozen of which had potential to be remediated as dedicated community greenspace.

I have also been involved in the design of a mapping tool launched by the Scottish Land Commission, the DUSTE map, which locates over 500 of Scotland’s long-term derelict urban sites.

These initiatives have greatly helped with the challenge of locating and identifying potential sites for regeneration. But what of investment to take ideas forward? There is money. The Scottish Government’s Vacant and Derelict Land Investment Programme has set aside some £50m of funding, to be spread across the financial years 2021/22 to 2025/26, and much of the funding released to date has gone to community-based projects. The latest listing of projects to receive funding can be found here.

The organisation I work for, Green Action Trust, has been the lead for several of these, such as Avenue End Road in Glasgow and Lionthorn Policy Bing in Falkirk. Like the majority of the country’s VDL sites, both are located within the area of the Central Scotland Green Network, one of Europe’s biggest green infrastructure programmes, and summarised here, on the CSGN website.

Of course, there are many other successful projects worth mentioning. A couple that are close to my heart, having personally helped to develop them, are located in the Ravenscraig area, in North Lanarkshire.

Wishawhill Wood Pump Track was built on an area of derelict land in Craigneuk and land within the former steelworks at Ravenscraig has been regenerated as an urban park (pictured).

These examples are evidence of what can be achieved when ambitions, stakeholders, funding and capacity all align.

Let’s celebrate these achievements and use them as a blueprint to dream even bigger when it comes to transforming Scotland’s vacant and derelict land.

Mike Batley is development officer for vacant and derelict land at leading environmental regeneration charity, Green Action Trust.

Please note: Mike is scheduled to be a guest interviewee as part of an upcoming series of weekly webinars (for members only): pencilled in for midday, September 27. A year’s worth of weekly webinars, for £12 a year, here.

Picture credit: Green Action Trust

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