Is the council presenting a fait accompli over asbestos site?

Date published: 15 October 2008

Mark Russell, Managing Director of MMC, the Heywood based developer that owns the Turners asbestos site, has told Rochdale Online the only way Spodden Valley can ever be rid of the killer mineral - asbestos - is through building development. He also says he has been informed there is no public money to either buy the site or clean it up.

MMC want to build a massive housing led development on the former site of the Turner and Newall factory, which until closing in 1994 was the world’s largest asbestos factory.

MMC would not agree to a representative being interviewed by Rochdale Online but they did release this statement: “The site will not be developed until RMBC is satisfied that safety concerns have been fully addressed, and MMCDL’s environmental consultants are confident of delivering a robust environmental solution.

“MMCDL believes that there is no viable alternative to development led remediation of the site, and hopes for the support of the community in its beneficial endeavours.”

MMC are believed to have paid millions for the site in 2004 and then shockingly asserted, ‘of particular note is the absence of any asbestos contamination’.

Local campaigner, Jason Addy, is worried about the level of asbestos contamination around the site and has blasted MMC’s comments as an attempt to "blackmail" Rochdale. “If the responsibility for the site now lies fairly and squarely with the landowners then to tell the people of Rochdale the only option for the site is hundreds of houses, then that is tantamount to blackmail,” he said. “Rochdale must accept the plans or the site remains blighted? No. That is simply not acceptable. “The future of the Spodden Valley is important for all of Rochdale. We must not be steamrollered or bullied into a forced outcome.”

MP for Rochdale, Paul Rowen, says he doubts if MMC will actually be able to develop the 72 acre site. “I have grave concerns about the record of MMC Estates and their ability to develop the site,” he said. “Their initial link up with Countryside Properties made me much more confident that they would develop the site safely. At the moment, to my knowledge they do not have a developer partner and in the current economic climate are unlikely to find one.”

Mr Rowen has suggested he would one day like to see the site developed. Earlier this year he told Crain’s business magazine that empty rates liability – which is a tax on empty business properties – should encourage MMC to develop the site. He said: “Clearly getting it redeveloped is a key priority. Given the market at the moment, redeveloping it is going to be difficult. The whole idea of empty rates tax is to bring into use this kind of site. I hope the company will appreciate that and talk to the council about plans for the site. Just sitting on land banks is not a good way forward.”

But the MP has made it clear he would only give his backing to a housing scheme if the site could be proven to be safe. “I would only support development of the Spodden Valley site if it can be demonstrated that the asbestos and other pollutants can be safely dealt with,” he said. “I understand some would not wish to see the site developed but it is an eyesore at the moment.”

Save Spodden Valley campaigners insist contaminated rubble, asbestos dumps, and buildings containing asbestos still litter the 72 acre site. And records from the T&N factory suggest that tonnes of asbestos was dumped in the surrounding area.

Save Spodden Valley co-ordinator, Jason Addy fears if asbestos is disturbed that there could be major health consequences for future generations.“The site is certainly an eyesore, so local people cannot be labelled NIMBY's. The importance of this site goes far beyond visual impact. The key issue is contamination. Asbestos from this site has killed far too many people already,” he said. “Safe and permanent remediation is essential. It is cheaper to develop the land for amenity use, such as an extension of Healey Dell, than it is to disturb the soil and make it completely safe for residential use. Remediation for development as an urban park would be much cheaper to achieve, but it would not be profitable.” 

Richard Butler, Principal Planning Officer, Rochdale Borough Council said: “The application has not yet been determined and is suspended whilst the applicants and their consultants, together with our own contamination experts, assess a number of issues, the most important being the asbestos risk and the remediation required as part of the redevelopment."

The council insists no decision has been made but Rochdale’s Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Simon Danzcuk, is convinced that the council think a housing development on the former T&N factory is an inevitability. He has warned that the Council are “sleepwalking into a catastrophic mistake” by suggesting that the building of 600 homes on the former T&N asbestos factory will one day go ahead.

“Council officers said the old Turner & Newall site was already identified for the building of 600 houses,” he said. "I was alarmed to see this presented as a fait accompli when there is no scientific or accountable reasons to suggest that this site is safe. I am worried that council officers are prepared to ride roughshod over legitimate health and safety concerns to put profits above the safety of future generations.

“There have been far too many deaths in Rochdale already because of asbestos cancer. We should not be making plans to bequeath the same horrible legacy onto future generations.”

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