Rochdale MP writes to government over former Turner Brothers Asbestos factory concerns
Date published: 14 August 2019
Photo: Carl Faulkner
The former Turner Brothers Asbestos factory in Spodden Valley
Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd has expressed his concerns about the former Turner Brothers Asbestos site in a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd MP.
Mr Lloyd has raised his concerns over security of the site, whilst noting that the results from a ground survey over two years ago have still not been shared, despite personally contacting the landowners to request this information be shared.
The geophysical ground survey at the world’s former largest asbestos factory was carried out between November 2016 and March 2017 to determine ground quality and any presence of asbestos.
The findings are still yet to be published.
The landowner’s representatives previously confirmed they have received the survey report from their contractor: despite the representatives stating they intend to share the report with the council, the council has not yet been provided with the report nor a timeframe.
Mr Lloyd said: “Turner Brothers operated an asbestos factory over many decades in Rochdale and many thousands of people worked in that factory.
“Sadly, most never knew how dangerous asbestos is and too many Rochdale families have lost loved ones to this deadly product.
“The asbestos factory is long gone but the site has lain empty for many a year. I’ve been chasing the present owners to find out the results of the soil survey they conducted.
“That survey should let us know whether the land is safe of contamination. The owners have still not answered my questions. This is why I have taken this up with Government ministers and Government safety bodies asking them to get involved and find out the truth.
“Rochdale people, including those living near the site, are entitled to know.”
Mr Lloyd has asked Ms Rudd and the Health and Safety Executive Acting Chief Executive, David Snowball, to look at contacting the landowners and publish this information to safeguard the public.
A spokesperson for the Save Spodden Valley campaign said: “The content of the correspondence may be welcome, especially as so many people and organisations have worked very hard for over 15 years to ensure that all the facts are known about the former Turner Brothers Asbestos Factory site and the potential for significant risk of harm from its complicated contamination pathways.
“The apparent silence from those acting for the site owners may also raise serious concerns about any relationship between them and Rochdale Council.
“The mysterious and secretive ‘TBA Project Team’ published a glossy brochure about site testing, yet the web and email contacts for the team have always emanated from within Rochdale Council, with unnamed council officers replying anonymously to members of the public whilst copying in – and passing on public concerns to – site agents.
“We warned years ago that such a questionable relationship could end up as a ‘toxic minefield’.”
The spokesperson continued: “Originally, Rochdale Council wanted to use taxpayers' money to part-fund soil testing with the mysterious offshore owners, which was challenged by Spodden Valley campaigners. We believe a barrister's opinion, commissioned by Rochdale Council, seemed to stop that idea.
“Despite FOI requests, that legal advice has never been made public, yet thankfully it may have saved Rochdale Council from forming an inadvertent partnership that may have left taxpayers stuck with millions of pounds of ‘toxic’ liabilities.
“Fifteen years on, it seems the concerns of Spodden Valley campaigners have been vindicated. We form part of a group of regional, national and international campaigners and experts who have dedicated years to ensure the Spodden Valley issues are fully understood, respected and acted upon to keep future generations of Rochdalians safe.
“Whilst this is a strictly non-party political issue, we welcome Tony Lloyd's recent intervention and would be happy to engage with him on this important issue for Rochdale – just as we have with his three predecessors.”
Nicola Rogers, head of public protection at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Although the council does not own the Turner Brothers site, we have for many years tried to find a long-term solution for it. We have repeatedly requested the result of the intrusive site survey works and welcome Tony Lloyd’s efforts.
“We advise people to stay on the public pathway and discourage trespassing. On-site security has been in place since 2014 and we continue to pass any concerns about the site on to the owners.”
Founded in 1871 as Turner Brothers, the plant initially manufactured cotton cloth-based packaging. In 1879, the company became the first in the UK to weave asbestos cloth and fittingly changed their name to Turner Brothers Asbestos Company.
At the height of production, the works employed 2,000 workers and 2,000 administrators.
Read more about the history of the Turner Brothers Asbestos factory here:
Soil tests on the TBA site in 2013 confirmed asbestos contamination in most of the test holes dug and United Utilities asbestos air testing detected elevated levels of asbestos fibres in the air.
Asbestos has unsurprisingly been linked to ‘in excess of 2,000 deaths’ from mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer each year in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Symptoms take many years, even decades, to appear after originally being exposed to the microscopic fibres.
A £26,000 council-commissioned air survey in October 2017 identified the discovery of a single asbestos fibre containing amphibole (‘brown’ or ‘blue’ asbestos) from a sample taken at Harridge Avenue.
Amphibole asbestos consists of straight, thin, needle-like fibres that are not as flexible as chrysotile ('white'), a 'curly' form of the mineral, which is also the most common variety. The TBA factory primarily processed white asbestos, although previous investigations had identified both brown and blue asbestos in areas of the site.
Testing took place at various locations around the site on a monthly basis, taking 103 samples between August 2015 to March 2017, split into in two phases using two different types of analysis.
There are over 250 articles dating back to 2005 relating to the former asbestos factory site and the Save Spodden Valley campaign in the Rochdale Online news archives:
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