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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Legal threat over pyre clean-up
Carcass pyre in Devon
Carcass pyres have caused anxiety across the country
A council is threatening legal action against a government department over its clean-up of a site used for burning foot-and-mouth carcasses.

Castle Morpeth Council wants proof that the site in Druridge Bay, Northumberland, has been properly cleaned after a first attempt left 600 tonnes of potentially toxic ash still there.

I see no difference why [Defra] should be treated differently

Mary Campbell
Northumbria council
It is calling on the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to respond within two weeks or face legal action.

But Defra has told BBC News Online it is confident that the issue can be resolved and that public health had not been put at risk.

The council says local people have lost confidence in the government since ash was found by contractors months after the site was supposed to have been cleared.

Residents are complaining about the "hasty" nature of the second clean-up to remove the ash.

The first operation involved contractors in full protective clothing using conveyor belts to trickle ash into lorries.

Regulating authorities

But residents are angry that the second clean-up involved unprotected contractors using mechanical diggers to dump the ash into lorries.

We can give an assurance that there is no risk to public health

Defra spokesman
James Grant, of the area's foot-and-mouth liaison committee, said local regulating authorities had not had the opportunity to properly monitor the operation.

He questioned the competence of the first clean-up, saying: "How can you miss 600 tonnes when you are stating categorically to the local community that you will not leave this site in any situation other than a clean area?"

There have also been allegations that contractors broke guidelines agreed to avoid the nearby village of Widdrington when removing the ash.

But a Defra spokesman insisted: "We are happy that there was no danger to public health during the clean-up."

Grazing land

And there have been reports that long dead pig carcasses were reburied after floating to the surface of a nearby burial site.

Northumbria County Council has asked for details of Defra's plans to restore the site to grazing land.

It is understood the council has been waiting for six months.

Planner Mary Campbell criticised "unnecessary secrecy" which was causing anxiety amongst residents.

"The normal planning procedure is that information is submitted to a planning authority and we carry out consultations.

Embarrassing case

"I see no difference why they should be treated any differently."

Castle Morpeth environmental health officer Alan Purdue has warned he will start what could be an embarrassing legal case against Defra if it does not provide evidence to the council.

"We wish decisions to be clear that relate to concerns or perceptions of public safety or public health," he said.

But the Defra spokesman told BBC News Online: "We are discussing the issue with local authorities and private landowners and are confident we will be able to resolve it.

"In the meantime we can give an assurance that there is no risk to public health."

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