"Brownfields" a common blight on the Czech industrial landscape


An annual conference on the state of the Czech environment has successfully wrapped up near Prague, discussing outstanding issues on cleaning up or preserving the local ecology. The conference takes into account a wide range of views from architects, agriculturalists, activists, and historians. Jan Velinger attended the event and brought back this report.

Face of Our LandFace of Our Land The annual "Face of Our Land" conference is something like a state of the union address on the Czech Republic's environment: two days of intense discussion on how far the Czech Republic has come and which problems remain.

One of the issues that has come up regularly has been just how much the Czech Republic continues to pay for past negligence, for example, for failing to clean up abandoned industrial zones - former factories or storage areas, so-called "brownfields" - that continue to be a blight on the industrial landscape and sometimes a serious health risk. Radka Burgermeisterova is from the independent Institute for Sustainable Development:

"You can find quite nice places, old factories from the beginning of the 20th century, but in the cellars, in the basements, there are often terribly dangerous chemicals. You have to put an enormous amount of money into cleaning and repairing the contaminated structures."

How common are brownfields in the Czech Republic? Most, not surprisingly, are in the industry-heavy city of Ostrava, in east Moravia. A study by the institute shows that some 15 percent of industrial areas there have been abandoned and become dilapidated. The percentage drops going west, to 6 percent in the country's 2nd largest city of Brno, and falls even further in Prague (3 percent). But, says Radka Burgermeisterova, it is clear that any number of brownfields - especially those housing hazardous material - remains unacceptable.

"It's our problem: we have to make a big effort to obtain interest from the Parliament and the government to try and move the issue forward."

RP: Private investors would prefer to invest in property that is untouched, pristine. What are some of the ways that you can get a private investor to be interested into investing in a brownfield and turning it into something new?

"We are calling for a change in legislation, we do believe it is possible to make special incentives, for example special tax breaks, when you fix up a brownfield or place your development there."

In Radka Burgermeisterova's view there is a further incentive in revitalising a rundown area: to obtain what could potentially be the most attractive address in town. For historic reasons many of the most broken down zones are found in picturesque or highly visible areas in Czech towns and cities - making them terrible eyesores till now, but hidden "diamonds in the rough". The task ahead - and it won't be easy - is now to get enough investors interested to start turning brownfields around.