Task force sets out to ensure construction doesn’t ‘cost the earth’

Construction machinery on soils

Each year in the UK millions of tonnes of one of our most precious non-renewable resources – soil - ends up in landfill as a result of construction activities.

Crushed and compacted by heavy machinery, excavated and disposed of as landfill during ground preparation work, contaminated, degraded and covered over by tarmac, soil is often at the bottom of the list of priorities during building and planning projects.

But soils are non-renewable and offer a host of important eco system services, such as locking up carbon and helping to prevent flooding.

A task force of experts, including academics at Lancaster University, has been working on a plan to put a healthy respect for soil at the centre of planning and construction.

Bringing together professionals from across soil science, local authorities, landscape architecture, masterplanning, architecture and urban design, the task force is launching a new report which highlights existing problems and lays out a roadmap to minimise soil damage and ensure future building work supports the needs of people and the natural environment.

Professor Jess Davies of Lancaster University said: “Soils provide a multitude of important functions for society including playing a key role in tackling both the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Yet, soil is routinely undervalued, damaged and disposed of during planning and construction.”

Professor John Quinton added: “Whilst only a small fraction of land is built upon, the scale of damage done to this non-renewable resource and living ecosystem is vast. Almost thirty million tonnes of soil are sent to landfill in the UK every year - ten times greater than estimates of what is lost from landscapes via soil erosion.”

The task force will launch their new report on soil sustainability in planning and construction on September 27.

“We need to move away from the view that soil on a construction site simply becomes unwanted muck to be removed so building work can commence. This report lays bare what a fragile, fundamental and valuable asset the soil is and how we can deliver realistic change to practices that deliver real benefits,” said Noel Farrer, Vice President of the Landscape Institute.

“Together we have been digging into the gaps in the policy and guidance landscape surrounding soils and we hope our new principles formed in consultation with many industry experts will help create positive change,” said Susanna Dart, from Planning Policy in Lancaster City Council.

To attend the launch, learn more about why soils matter for sustainable development, and discuss the new set of recommendations developed between academic and industry experts go to Building on Soil Sustainability: Report Web Launch Tickets, Tue 27 Sep 2022 at 12:00 | Eventbrite

The task force is based at Lancaster University in the Lancaster Environment Centre, and is made up of academic researchers and partners from Lancaster City Council, Cornwall Council, Farrer Huxley and JTP.

Task Force members:

  • Professor John Quinton, Lancaster University
  • Professor Jess Davies, Lancaster University
  • Roisin O’Riordan Formerly Lancaster University now Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Paul Hatch, Principal Planning Officer, Lancaster City Council
  • Susanna Dart, Climate Change Policy Officer, Lancaster City Council
  • Rebecca Richards, Planning Policy Officer, Lancaster City Council
  • Adam Birchall, Head of Planning and Housing Policy, Cornwall Council
  • Birgit Hontzsch, Senior Project Lead, Cornwall Council
  • Charles Campion, Partner, JTP
  • Noel Farrer, Director, Farrer Huxley; Landscape Institute Vice President
  • Mareike Menzel, Associate, Farrer Huxley

The project has been supported by a Lancaster University EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Impact Acceleration Account, Lancaster City Council, Cornwall Council, Farrer Huxley and JTP, as well as the EPSRC project Soil-Value and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) project Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials. www.lancaster.ac.uk/soilstaskforce

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