Torfaen County Borough Council Area Report

Torfaen County Borough Council (UK) lies in the Eastern Valley of the former South Wales coal fields, covering an area of 12,546 hectares and supported by a population of over 91,000. Rural settlements mix with a range of urban conurbations, including former mining communities such as Blaenavon (Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site), the market town of Pontypool, and the New Town of Cwmbran.

Torfaen falls within the Objective 1 Area of the European Union. It has embarked on a substantial programme of regeneration: seeking potential large scale development opportunities, founded on previously used land, in order to improve the socio-economic prosperity of the area. Torfaen has identified an important need to collate information on all brownfield sites in order to assess the opportunities to regenerate these areas for commercial, recreational or housing use.

Brownfield Sites Asset Register

Prior to the REVIT project, no detailed work had been undertaken to map, collate and analyse information regarding the extent of brownfield sites in the area, and their related issues or opportunities. The REVIT project has supported the development of a GIS tool, together with staff training to operate it. This now contains information on all issues related to existing brownfield sites in the area (“Brownfield Sites Asset Register”). The asset register has substantially assisted with developing proposals and development / regeneration decisions and now provides well-founded information to those applying for funds or attracting potential investors to the sites.

Torfaen staff from both the GIS unit and Environmental Protection visited Medway Council and the City of Stuttgart in the early stages of the project to view their brownfield GIS systems and incorporate good practice into the development of the Torfaen system. A full-time GIS officer has been employed by the project to record information on all the brownfield sites in Torfaen: now numbering over 1,800. The datasets that have contributed to the mapping of brownfield sites include historical maps, habitat surveys and information on land ownership and contamination.

Working in partnership with Torfaen’s Contaminated Land Officer has helped to verify the data recorded and to add further information in relation to key sites on issues such as the extent of contamination, likely receptors etc. Work is also continuing to record datasets on registered common land that may have had previous industrial uses, of which 50 have been fully verified and mapped.

A new GIS layer has been developed for REVIT showing all the brownfield sites using “MapInfo” software, which is an industry standard GIS system. Tests of this system were undertaken on a large brownfield site in Torfaen, known as “The British”. This test shows various epochs of development on the site, set in layers, so that it is possible to map its history. This will assist with future development proposals for the site.

Key sites are being investigated in detail and additional information is being compiled on an on-going basis. This information is being used to inform the development of the new planning policy framework for Torfaen, known as the Local Development Plan, which will provide a strategic policy planning framework for the next fifteen years. Torfaen is now the leading authority in Wales in respect of having detailed all its brownfield sites and collated the information on its GIS system. In order for this information to be made more widely available to staff, the REVIT Project has purchased “GDC Planweb” software to hold and display the data collated. This has been made accessible to sections that will directly benefit from being able to view the emerging brownfield registerand technical information contained within the register.

The sections include Torfaen’s Planning Section (responsible for the formulation of the statutory Local Development Plan), Countryside and Ecology Section and Environmental Health Team. The Urban Regeneration Team, who have responsibility for developing and marketing key brownfield sites within the Borough for regeneration, are also able to access the software. The GIS officer has delivered one-to-one training to all officers with access to “GDC Planweb”.