Anthrax scare over potential housing site in East Cambs - did infected livestock get buried there in the 1930s?

CPRE objected to Laragh Homes development of 30 homes for this seven acre site in Haddenham. Critics

CPRE objected to Laragh Homes development of 30 homes for this seven acre site in Haddenham. Critics raised the fears of anthran infected livestock being dumped there in the 1930s. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Did anthrax infected livestock get buried on a seven acre site in Haddenham where a developer wants to build up to 30 houses?

That was one of the issues before East Cambridgeshire District Council Planning Committee in considering a fresh bid by Laragh Homes Developments Ltd for 24 houses off Bury Lane.

A previous application for 30 homes was refused and that is now subject to an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Councillors were recommended by their officers to accept the latest application, partly because the council had failed to show it had a five year supply of land for the district.

Officers also argued that earlier objections had been overcome and warned of the financial consequences if the matter went to a further appeal and the council lost; if the council was found to have erred in its judgement the developer could be awarded his costs for the appeal.

The planning committee heard of many objections to the scheme from residents, with issues ranging from the site being outside the village development area to access and available school places.

Although councillors did not suggest an outcome to the anthrax concerns, the parish council pointed out there were real concerns locally.

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“It should be noted that there is a strong local rumour that around 1935 a significant amount of anthrax infected livestock were buried on this land,” it told the planning committee.

“Although no records exist it is a commonly accepted fact locally and it is thought to be the reason behind the name of the road changing from ‘Berry Lane’ to ‘Bury Lane’.”

Jane Williams, a trustee of the Cambs and Peterborough branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), raised the anthrax issue during her address to councillors.

“We note with concern the environmental health comments that there is ‘anecdotal evidence of anthrax burials at the site’”

She said: “Anthrax spores can pose a risk to human health and it is believed that they can survive in the soil for many years.’

“CPRE understands that even the investigation of an anthrax contaminated site runs the risk of spore release and clean-up is known to be very costly.”

She added: “In 2001, following an anthrax attack by mail, cleaning the contaminated Brentwood postal facility in Washington, USA is reported to have cost $130 million and taken 26 months.

“We therefore question whether the standard conditions requested by the environmental health officer would in fact provide sufficient protection for those involved and the community.”

Councillor Stuart Smith, a Haddenham member, also referred to the environment health officer’s comments regarding anthrax.

He had been a parish councillor for 26 years and remembered it having been raised in discussions.

He said it would have been better to investigate before bringing the application to committee. He believed that this issue alone warranted deferral of a decision because members had not had a full report.

Planning officers interjected to say they were content for this issue to be subject to post approval conditions.

The proposals rejected by the committee would have allowed 24 homes off Bury Lane, with a third of them designated ‘affordable’.

“This provision would add to the district’s housing stock and make a significant contribution towards the shortfall in housing supply,” said an officer’s report.

And he warned councillors that “an appeal can be lodged against a refusal of planning permission or a condition imposed upon a planning permission.

“If a local planning authority is found to have acted unreasonably and this has incurred costs for the applicant then a cost award can be made against the council.”

But councillors were swayed by arguments from residents and their own members who didn’t want the homes built there.

One resident claimed photos from the developers were inaccurate in how they displayed the new estate.

And ward councillor Steve Cheetham said the housing would “significantly and demonstrably outweigh any benefit”.

The committee decided by five votes to three to refuse the application. They said it would cause harm to the character and appearance of the area and would have a visual and residential amenity impact on other homes in Bury Lane and Aldreth Road.