Conceptual definitions of brownfields and strategies of their regeneration

There is no single officially agreed definition for brownfields in Poland. Degradation of land is the subject of various legislative frameworks concerning agriculture and forest soil protection, environmental protection and spatial planning. These frameworks relate to various administrative institutions. Brownfields meant as post-industrial, post-military sites are not recognized directly in the legislative framework. Definitions focused on this aspect are formulated by practitioners dealing with land management.

There are many definitions used in different legislative documents. They reflect different aspects of degradation:

  • Degraded areas due to diffuse soil contamination - high density of landfill sites.” (Ministry of Environment in Poland)[1]
  • “Areas designed for recultivation including degraded or desolated grounds, such as closed dumps, dumping grounds, such as closed dumps, dumping grounds, depressions (hollows), post industrial areas, post mining areas, post military training ground, for which the administrative bodies approved recultivation projects.” (Ministry of Regional Development[2]).
  • “Degraded area – special area – in the context of spatial planning or in the context of spatial conflicts – indicated in voivodeship [i.e. the regional level] planning documents: Study of the Conditions ad Directions for the Spatial Development and Land Use Development Plan.” (Ustawa o planowaniu i zagospodarowaniu przestrzennym[3]).
  • “Degraded area – grounds of decreased agricultural or forestry value, especially as a result of worsening of natural conditions or changes in environment or industrial activities as well as imperfect rural activity” (Ustawa o ochronie gruntów rolnych i leśnych[4]).

Consequently, there is no national strategy for brownfields regeneration in Poland. On country level, a strategy for the Silesian Voivodeship exists entitled „Wojewódzki Program przekształceń terenów poprzemysłowych i zdegradowanych wraz koncepcją rozbudowy narzędzi informatycznych oraz prognozą jego oddziaływania na środowisko. Regionalny system wspomagania zarządzaniem terenami poprzemysłowymi w gminach, 2008”[5].

In the context of applying for structural funds managed by Marshal Offices of the Voivodships within Regional Operational Programmes (Regionalne Programy Operacyjne - RPO), municipalities are obliged to prepare local revitalization plans with identification of sites owned by local community and with rationale for their redevelopment. Local revitalization plans are prepared and coordinated by local administration and constitute action plans aimed at transformation of the sites and facilitation of their further development. 

Site regeneration is not required as a compulsory action of site owner. In most cases brownfield sites in Poland are owned by public entities, especially by local communities. The situation is often a result of official transfers of military sites or post-mining and industrial areas to the relevant local government. The owner is legally responsible only for environmental risks posed by site contamination and other issues like safety for the public. For the brownfield site’s owner intervention is required in cases when contamination exceeds threshold values established for soil. In cases in which high environmental risk was determined, central government establishes special remediation programs. For example, in the 1990s programs for former soviet military bases and for pesticide dumps were executed. For those site categories structured information was prepared as internal documentation.[6]

Regional Agency for Environmental Protection (Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska – RDOŚ) is responsible for registering of contaminated sites upon information from site owners or relevant institutions - Environmental Protection Inspectorates. Previously the responsibility of registering of contaminated and degraded land was laid on county administration. According to the latest changes in Polish law, Regional Environmental Protection Directorate (Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska – RDOŚ) is responsible for management of abandoned sites posing environmental risk. Its responsibility concerns site remediation and its further transfer to new owner – potentially community – according to the general approach recognized in Poland. The community could manage the site as public property. Another option is selling the property to private investor. Usually, further redevelopment activities are carried out through mechanism of Special Economic Zones in which municipalities can transfer the land to the zone operator responsible for revitalization or through selling of the land to private owners.

[6] Currently a program on liquidation of high risk sites (so called “ecological bombs”) is carried out. Within this program the financial support for remediation activities is provided. It is an initiative of the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection (Główny Inspektorat Ochrony Środowiska - GIOŚ) and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management (Narodowy Fundusz Ochrony Środowiska i Gospodarki Wodnej – NFOŚiGW). List of these sites is not publicly available. The priority is given to abandoned lands and lands owned by the state. Private owners can also apply for financial support.