Government has lost the plot’ on poisoned gardens’

COUNCIL chiefs have rejected Government safe levels for Littleport s toxic land and are pushing for 26 poisoned gardens to be left untouched. Five other gardens, with the highest level of contamination, should be cleaned up with the county council foo

COUNCIL chiefs have rejected Government "safe" levels for Littleport's toxic land and are pushing for 26 "poisoned" gardens to be left untouched.

Five other gardens, with the highest level of contamination, should be cleaned up with the county council footing the bill, they claim.

The move, if backed by full council, could leave most of the families living on the contaminated land unable to sell their homes until the Government changes the law.

Council officers made their decision after rejecting as "unworkable" the Government's safe figures for the cancer-producing chemical, benzopyrene, and raising the threshold 10-fold.

It means that, whilst the Government claims only 1.35mg of benzopyrene per 1kg of land is the safe limit, East Cambridgeshire District Council has raised the limit to 12.5mg, resulting in 26 homes not qualifying for clean up.

Now families in Old School Close and Ponts Hill may not be able to move on even though some of the land registered levels six times higher than the Government's safe figure.

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The land is believed to have been contaminated by an old gasworks which was demolished to make way for the homes 16 years ago.

Five houses, built directly on the footprint of the gasworks, should be cleaned up by Cambridgeshire County Council which sold the land in 1990 as part of a package including an old school and fire station, claims the district council.

Three of the remaining 26 houses, owned by Ely's Hereward Housing Association, could be treated by the district council for high levels of lead or arsenic but not for benzopyrene.

East Cambridgeshire District Council's director of environmental services, Stephen Clements, said: "The Government is not allowing us to move forward on this issue and the residents are suffering because their houses are worth nothing.

"If we go and remediate these houses we could be setting a precedent. We have come up with methodology which allows us to move forward and we can beat the Government around the head with this. We need to push the Government to deal with this."

Council officers decided to raise the "safe" threshold after two years of testing gardens in the area failed to determine a cut-off point for the contamination..

Resident Amanda Murfitt, from Old School Close, whose house is one of the 26, met with district councillors last week and she told the Ely Standard: "We have to wait and see what the council decides. We were encouraged by the meeting."

North East Cambridgeshire MP Malcolm Moss, who has been fighting for a change in the law on contaminated land on behalf of the families, said: "The levels set by the Government are so ridiculously low that hundreds of thousands of homes in the UK will be caught out by this.

"The Environment Agency has just come up with acceptable levels for radon gas which are higher than benzopyrene levels. We are trying to get some consistency."

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: "Planning permission and building regulations for houses already built are the responsibility of the district council.

"If any householder feels he has a claim against the county council it will be considered by our insurers."

District councillors will make their decision on the contaminated land at a full council meeting on February 23.