|You are in: Programmes: Panorama: Archive|
Monday March 20 2000
Reporter David Lomax
Producer Kiran Soni
The government's plans to build hundreds of thousands of new homes on brown field land could leave many homeowners living in "blighted" houses because of uncertainties over contamination. Panorama also shows that some of the country's biggest developers have started building on sites before local councils have agreed a strategy on surveying the land and deciding how to make it safe.
Outside the village of Weston near Runcorn in Cheshire there's an old chemical dump. For 50 years ICI dumped toxic waste into quarries there. Now the village of about 1000 people is under threat.
In March this year, John Prescott set a target of building 60% of all new homes over the next five years on brown field sites. The government estimates that there are 100,000 potentially contaminated sites across the country.
Scroll down for related links
New laws which come into effect in April will compel local authorities to draw up a register of contaminated sites, and an action plan on how to clean them up. But Panorama has discovered that there are already difficulties between local authorities and developers which the new laws may not resolve.
Panorama reveals how West Berkshire Council has described Barratt's as "irresponsible" for starting work on a potentially contaminated site before the authority was satisfied that the company had provided surveys and agreed remediation plans for the land.
Developments highlighted in the programme:
Thatcham, West Berks
Barratt's are building homes on a group of ex-industrial sites in Thatcham, West Berks called Saxon Court. The local council only gave Barratt's planning permission on condition that before starting work the company did surveys on the level of contamination if any and agreed remediation plans if the sites needed cleaning up.
However, Barratt's did not comply to the satisfaction of the council and started building, despite not having satisfied planning conditions. The council has now issued an enforcement notice on phase 3 and a stop notice on phase 4 of the development.The council's Public Protection Officer John Parfitt said:
They actually started building properties there, or doing preparatory work such as driving piles and so on for foundation works, before we had received even the proposals for how they were going to find out what contamination was on site, let alone do the remediation works.The Environment Agency and ourselves met with Barratt's and with our colleagues to draw this to their attention as you would imagine and say, you know, what's going on. But I mean in one case we actually had houses up to roof level.
Schooners Reach, Greenhithe, South Thames/Kent
South Thames is going to see most of the new development in the south east promised by John Prescott, with thousands of homes being built on ex-industrial estates. Barratts has been building homes at Schooners Reach, which used to be a tank farm and ship repair yard.
John Murphy bought a Barratt's home there in 1997. When looking at plans for more Barratt homes, he saw a planning notice saying that the EA and Dartford Council had given the remediation work on the site their blessing. They had not done so and subsequently had the notices removedJohn Murphy said he complained to the Environment Agency's contamination land officer; "Within an hour he was up here. And made Barratt's take the notice down. That notice was subsequently amended and deleted the reference to the Environment Agency and just left the Dartford Borough clearance in the narrative. I then telephoned the Chief of Planning in the Dartford Borough Council and he was amazed and shot down an hour later and had the second notice removed."
Last month Barratt's pleaded guilty in court to making a misleading statement. The company was fined £4,000 with £15,000 costs.
The council eventually gave formal planning permission but added a rider:
The Residents Association say they're satisfied that the land is not contaminated but sales of properties there have since fallen through and home-owners are worried that house values are falling.
Fairview Homes are building 1,300 homes at Enfield Lock in north London on land which was once a Small Arms Factory, makers of the Sten and Bren guns. Following a survey of the site which found evidence of toxic chemicals including arsenic and Mercury, Fairview remediation strategy included putting down a 3 ft deep clay cap. However, the Environment Agency (EA), and environmental consultants have said that in their opinion the precautions were not robust enough.
Fairview Homes consultants' disagreed and the company carried on building. Enfield Council allowed the development to go ahead, even after further warnings from the EA. Residents have been told not to dig deeper than 3ft in their gardens without permission.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more Archive stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy