The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has called on the Commission to improve the regeneration process of the so-called “brownfield” sites, meaning the former industrial and military areas which are often derelict and contaminated.
As Henri Grethen, the ECA member responsible for the report stated: “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. Against this background, cleaning up historic pollution will probably still need to be paid for out of public funds.”
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. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion funds have been used in order to promote regeneration projects with a view to re-use these sites as well as to protect human health and the environment.
The Auditors visited some of these sites and concluded that even though most projects successfully transformed the area, in many cases the redeveloped land and buildings is not being used as planned and job creation has been lower than expected. However, this was also partially due to the economic crisis.
In addition, according to the Auditors, positive results could have been achieved at a reduced cost to national and EU budgets. Moreover, polluters had not always been charged for environmental clean-ups. Finally, ECA believes that more should be done to promote the re-use of brownfield sites over the development of greenfield sites.