Blackfields: land you wouldn't want for free
The Flemish waste company Ovam and Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen PMV have formed a joint venture, Saninvest, that will give new life to heavily polluted sites. Ideally PMV hopes to bring a private developer on board who helps to cover the cleaning costs. The Flanders region has an estimated 10.000 polluted sites. A few hundred of these, the so-called brownfields, are completely desolate and include both smaller sites, like run-down petrol stations, as well as bigger sites like the dozens of hectares of unproductive industrial ground in Machelen, where the developer Uplace plans to erect a massive shopping centre. Brownfield needs to be cleaned up before they can be sold or developed. The value of the site quite often exceeds the compulsory cleaning-up costs, making it easy to find a willing buyer. If not, one is stuck with a blackfield which the owner will be unable to sell. That is to say if there is an owner at all, as many blackfields have been polluted by companies that no longer exist, leaving no other option than have Ovam cleaned the site. For this cleaning process and any other clean-up operations which cannot be invoiced, Ovam has a budget of 30 million euros a year. This is not that much if one considers that a blackfield clean-up can easily cost a few million euros, or even as much as 50 million euros as in the case of Carcoke, the former 15 hectare site of the coal-washing and processing plant in Zeebrugge. Ovam can clean an average of three blackfields each year. Exactly how many of these fields exist and what it will finally cost to clean them all is not clear and even Ovam is unsure of the amount. But Ovam spokesperson Jan Verheyen is confident that Flanders is well on track and geared to meet the government of Flanders’ target date of 2036 for having finished all soil contamination. In its effort to give these blackfields a new destination, Ovam will be partnering with PMV in future. Both companies signed the cooperation protocol yesterday and intend to reveal their plans to Flemish Minister for the Environment, Joke Schauvliege CD&V within the next six months. Only then will the work begin in all earnest.