New owners for former Turner Brothers Asbestos site

Date published: 09 November 2021

A site that was once home to the world’s largest asbestos manufacturer has been bought by Castleford-based ESG Trading Ltd.

The 72-acre former Turner Brothers Asbestos site has a long history of industrial use, including asbestos manufacture dating back to the 19th century.

The Spodden Valley has a bitter-sweet resonance for those who know the area. Situated on the urban fringe of Rochdale, the former asbestos factory site borders the picturesque woodland of the Healey Dell Nature Reserve and the dramatic landscapes of the West Pennine Moors.

The factory processed asbestos from the 1870s until the mid-1990s before going into administration in 2001.

The former Turner Brothers Asbestos (TBA) factory, once over 100 acres in size, employed many generations of workers. In-house company magazines printed stories of workers enjoying happy social events in the many clubs and societies organised within the factory. Unfortunately, there was a sinister side to the site because of the material that was processed – asbestos.

Company documents suggest that many of the dangers to health from the ‘magic mineral’ were not disclosed to shop floor workers and local residents.

With the legacy of the site having such an impact on people’s lives, hundreds of local residents concerned about asbestos contamination and damage to wildlife habitat formed the vocal Save Spodden Valley campaign in 2004.

For over 15 years Save Spodden Valley has been campaigning for open and accountable scrutiny of the history and legacy of the former asbestos site to ensure a permanent and safe solution for the people of Rochdale.

In 2005, it was confirmed that asbestos factory waste was exposed on the site beside the river Spodden. Tests were conducted that confirmed that all types of commercially produced asbestos – amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile were present in the samples tested.

The area was ‘turfed’ over but in the years since, the Save Spodden Valley campaign and national charities have expressed concern about the growing danger of asbestos exposure and damage to the crumbling retaining walls beside the riverbank.

These fears were realised in late 2018 when the banking collapsed.

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.

A geophysical ground survey was carried out between November 2016 and March 2017, with the findings still yet to be published. Despite the landowner’s representatives stating they intend to share the report with the council, the council has not been provided with the report nor a timeframe.

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.

ESG Trading Limited is a specialist remediation company, with in-house experts who are experienced at decontaminating and remediating complex brownfield sites.

Speaking after the purchase of the site, Martin Greenwood, chairman of ESG Trading, said: “The former Turner Brothers Asbestos site provides a potential opportunity to contribute to the future growth of Rochdale. But this can only be realised by a careful, considered and safe strategy to decontaminate, demolish and remediate the land.

“I am very aware of the sensitivities that have surrounded previous attempts to regenerate the site and my team are in ongoing discussions with Rochdale Council, the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive, to develop a remediation strategy that exceeds statutory requirements.

“Over the coming weeks survey work will begin and residents may notice increased activity across the site. This vital survey work will inform the remediation strategy and has been agreed with regulators. 

“No remediation work will begin without all relevant approvals being in place.

“My team are also aware of the level of interest from the local community about the site. Whilst we do not have all of the answers at the moment, we look forward to introducing ourselves to local residents over the coming weeks and will take an open and transparent approach to information sharing.”

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