Toxic site lands ratepayers with £20k compo bill

PUBLISHED: 09:44 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 04 May 2010

Peter and Teresa Butterfield in their garden which holds sentimental value.

Peter and Teresa Butterfield in their garden which holds sentimental value.

RATEPAYERS are to pick up a £20,000 bill for compensation after council planners gave the go-ahead for Littleport homes to be built on toxic land without ordering a clean-up operation. Four villagers will receive £5,000 from East Cambridgeshire District

RATEPAYERS are to pick up a £20,000 bill for compensation after council planners gave the go-ahead for Littleport homes to be built on toxic land without ordering a clean-up operation.

Four villagers will receive £5,000 from East Cambridgeshire District Council after it gave permission for their homes to be built on the footprint of an old gasworks site.

The Local Government Ombudsman, Jerry White, decided the council had failed to impose a planning condition requiring decontamination work to be carried out.

He decided the council was guilty of maladministration causing "significant injustice".

The decision comes as council officers prepare to call in workmen to clean up 29 gardens affected by cancer-producing chemicals in Ponts Hill and Old School Close.

But some residents are refusing to sign legal agreements with the council because they fear their gardens will not be reinstated when the work is completed.

They have been warned that unless they sign by February 15, the work will not be carried out.

Teresa Butterfield, who lives in Old School Close, just 50 feet from one of the worst affected homes, wants assurances that her treasured garden will be saved.

It holds great sentimental value as the place where she buried two cherished pets and planted a tree given as a present by her brother to mark her 40th birthday.

She has already dug up and potted a rose taken from her mother's garden, on which her father's ashes were scattered for fear it will be lost in the clean-up operation.

Mrs Butterfield wanted to preserve the £600, 20 feet-long run she built for her four cats and her garden shed and offered to dismantle and rebuild them herself.

She was told if fence panels are damaged in the clean-up they will not be replaced with the same type and she wanted her agreement with the council to be reworded to reflect her personal situation - but the council has refused.

Now she is refusing to carry out any of the work herself and wants the council to completely reinstate her garden.

"It's not my intention to be stroppy or hold up the process," she said, "but I just want my garden to be put back as it is now.

"I know the council hasn't got a bottomless pit of money but if it had given proper consideration to clearing the site in the first place we wouldn't be in this situation now.

"The council is expecting us to accept second best with no consideration for our thoughts or financial standing. I feel I have reached a stalemate and I have refused to sign."

John Hill, chief executive of East Cambridgeshire District Council said of the Ombudsman's findings: "We recognise our responsibility in this case and sincerely regret the stress which this has caused residents in the area. We have learnt valuable lessons as a result of this case and are confident that given the clear, strict guidelines which are now in place to deal with contaminated land issues, an incident such as this should not happen again."

He said of Mrs Butterfield's case that the council does not have the resources or the time to offer residents individually tailored agreements.

Mr Hill also confirmed that if Mrs Butterfield's fence were to be damaged during the work it would not be able to be replaced with identical panels.

"There is no compulsion for Mrs Butterfield or any other resident to have this work done," he said. "We have been quite open with them and we are investing considerable resources in getting this work done.

"We are trying to give residents as many choices as possible. We would encourage them to sign the agreements so that we can get on with the work."

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