Derelict land to become meadows at a cost of £150m

A £150m plan to regenerate derelict industrial areas by creating new woodlands, heaths, wetlands and wildflower meadows was launched yesterday by Groundwork, the national environmental organisation, writes David Nicholson- Lord.

Groundwork is seeking £50m from the Millennium Commission as part of an initiative to "bring the countryside back into town" - turning disused factory sites and coalfield waste heaps into new ecologically-rich "post- industrial" landscapes designed and run by local communities.

With another £100m raised from industry, government and private sources, it also plans to create a UK Trust for the Restoration of Derelict Land, which will hold the land for the nation. The body is seen as an urban version of the National Trust.

The scheme was backed by a survey released yesterday showing the recession of the early 1990s created big new tracts of dereliction, which are spreading from traditional industrial areas of northern England into the once prosperous South-east.

The South-east, including Greater London, is generating derelict land at the rate of more than 1,000 acres a year, one-third faster than the North-west.

The survey shows that the total area of derelict land has dropped little, despite more than two decades of reclamation. On present rates, it will take 200 years to clear the backlog.

In England, the area of official dereliction was 43,300 hectares in the early 1970s, 40,500 in the late 1980s and 39,600 in 1993. However, if wasteland and land awaiting development is included, the total rises to about 80,000 hectares, more than twice the area of the Isle of Wight.

Groundwork also released the findings of a MORI poll which showed that 71 per cent think derelict land reduces quality of life and that most want to see it turned into areas for play and informal recreation.

MORI says the findings reinforce previous surveys, demonstrating that "people's immediate environment is a very great concern to them, more consistently so than global concepts such as ozone layer depletion or deforestation".

John Handley, Groundwork professor of land restoration and management at Manchester University, and the report's author, said much conventional reclamation fails because it is boring, expensive and ignores needs of local people.