Date published: 11 December 2009
Exposed asbestos in the Spodden Valley
Rochdale Online has gained access to public documents that raise the stakes in the Spodden Valley asbestos planning application saga. Campaigners suggest that Rochdale Borough Council has earmarked the TBA site for 568 houses. This precise amount of housing forms part of a draft allocation of future brownfield land targets to be set out in the planning blueprint “Core Strategy” for Rochdale's future. The figure of 568 is based on a housing density of 30 dwellings per hectare.
In addition, a letter sent by Peter Rowlinson, RMBC Head of Planning and Regulation to the Homes and Communities Agency has been seen by Rochdale Online.
Responding to the latest revelations, Jason Addy, co-ordinator of the Save Spodden Valley campaign told Rochdale Online:
“For me there are at least three issues raised in the letter that are of great concern:
1. Why is Rochdale Council openly stating the current planning application will be withdrawn but only at a time convenient for MMC to replace it with another planning application? If the current planning application (lodged December 2004 and on hold since 2005) is duff then it should be rejected.”
Mr Rowlinson wrote:
"A planning application for the site was submitted three [sic] years ago. This remains undetermined as adequate information on which to make a decision does not exist. I have agreed to hold this application open until a replacement application can be submitted and determined following which the current scheme will be withdrawn. The current application whilst still proposing mixed use has a higher proportion of residential and our forthcoming Local Development Framework Core Strategy will re-iterate this change of emphasis".
Mr Addy responds:
“This "change of emphasis" in the new Core Strategy is news to me I have attended several public meetings about the Core Strategy (and have been one of less than a dozen members of the public to do so). I have never got a straight answer to what the future options are for the TBA site.
“This is NOT proper public consultation. The past public meetings were very poorly attended. As a result the Rochdale Town Hall meetings ended early. This is farcical. Rochdale's future blueprint is being decided and Rochdalians are not having their say. As it stands our town's future is being made by a few senior officers - that cannot be right.”
2. The former TBA site has never been legally declared Contaminated Land under the Environmental Protection Act. This is despite draft Rochdale Council documents from 2004 confirming it should be. For 5 years Rochdale Council has refused to declare it so. This is despite the facts of the size and extent of the contamination of the TBA site being confirmed by the independent Atkins Report. Now the site owners, MMC, suggest they do not have funds available to test and remediate the site Rochdale Council is now considering accessing government funds for contaminated land.
Mr Addy made two points to Rochdale Online about this:
“Firstly, the site hasn't changed - in our opinion (and that of experts) it should have been declared contaminated land years ago.
“Secondly, Mr Rowlinson's letter suggests the current site owners have ‘nervousness’. The letter suggests a compromise by Rochdale Council so that only part of the site is legally declared contaminated land.
“This an incredible position where Rochdale Council appears to be compromising public heath and safety decisions for the convenience of a private company.”
Here is precisely what was written to the Homes and Communities Agency by Mr Rowlinson:
"It is clear that there are difficulties now in this approach with the reduction in land values making contributions to remediation more problematic. The Council has indicated a willingness to explore the possibilities of funding from DEFRA but this would require the declaration of the site to be funded as Contaminated Land. The owners have a nervousness about this and it may be appropriate only to declare the northern woodlands (the area of green belt) as contaminated".
3. Here is the conclusion of Rochdale Council's Head of Planning and Regulation to the site of the world's first then largest asbestos textile factory - a site that has killed countless workers and a number local people from environment exposure (Turner & Newall documents confirm the dumping of asbestos waste on site and the release of dust into the air above the factory). A site that independent reports acknowledge the existence of asbestos dumping up to 4 metres deep and the potential for tens of thousands of tonnes of asbestos contamination:
Mr Rowlinson wrote:
"The site does not form a part of the Council’s current regeneration priorities, nor is it likely to be a priority for regeneration funding".
As a result of these extraordinary events, the Save Spodden Valley campaign is to renew its information request to Rochdale Council and the Rochdale Development Agency. An earlier FOI request made in 2005 hit a brick wall.
Rochdale Online joins Save Spodden Valley and all those concerned about the potential health and safety of residents in the Borough in asking: “Isn't it time the public had access to all the facts about the former Turner & Newall site so that safe and accountable decisions can be made?”