Toxic land cash hope

PUBLISHED: 13:22 22 February 2007 | UPDATED: 13:51 04 May 2010

COUNCIL chiefs are confident Government cash will rescue five families from Littleport s toxic land after county officers washed their hands of the problem. They secured a £28,000 grant on Monday to carry out an options assessment on land where five of th

COUNCIL chiefs are confident Government cash will rescue five families from Littleport's toxic land after county officers washed their hands of the problem.

They secured a £28,000 grant on Monday to carry out an options assessment on land where five of the worst affected homes stand.

But, if their bid for more cash from the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) fails, they may be forced to pursue legal action.

The start date for the remediation work has already been pushed back several months to the summer without any real certainty as to who will pick up part of the bill.

East Cambridgeshire District Council committed £370,000 to decontaminate the land where 26 properties stand in Old School Close and Ponts Hill.

But they still need to raise money to pay for remediation work on five of the worst affected homes which stand on the footprint of the old gasworks site.

The council must satisfy Defra that it has pursued all avenues to try to claim the money back from developers who built the homes and Cambridgeshire County Council, which previously owned the site.

But the county council has refused to take any responsibility and will not pay up.

A spokesman said: "It has never been established that the county council was responsible for the pollution or is in any way responsible for the clean-up operation and, under these circumstances, we will decline to make a contribution."

Consultants are working for the council to provide options for cleaning up the site of the five homes and are expected to report back on March 16.

But residents, who have fought for four years to get their land free of cancer-producing chemicals, fear that until work starts on the properties the final cost is unknown.

They met council officers last week to discuss the way forward and are frustrated by the delay.

Resident Amanda Murfitt, of Old School Close, said: "If they find old tanks under the houses or gas pipes which could be lagged with asbestos how can they be sure how much the final cost will be? You can't price a job if you don't know what it entails.

"We were told this work was supposed to start in May. Now we are told it will be July or August when the children will be on school holidays. It's a Catch 22. We don't want the children to be around when the work is going on but we can't afford any more delays.

"We also have no idea what happens if Defra says 'no' to the council's bid."

East Cambridgeshire District Council chief executive, John Hill, said: "We have received very positive feedback from Defra. We have received a grant and Defra has notified us to get on with the job and develop our case to put to them. Their commitment to this is positive and we remain confident that they are going to say 'yes'.

"If they say 'no', because the grant situation has changed, then we will have to revisit the legal process and take it to its natural conclusion.

"Until we know what our options are going to be for remediation we can't put a figure on the work. But we have employed the leading experts in the field who are very experienced in the unknown areas of this particular problem."

Council officers are expected to report back to environment and transport committee members on the findings of the options assessment in April.

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