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Plans to build hundreds of homes on Lea Bridge Gasworks have been approved by Waltham Council despite residents’ fears it will release dangerous chemicals trapped in the soil.
St Williams, owned by National Grid and the Berkeley Group, will start work on 573 new homes on Clementina Road next year after winning unanimous approval on Tuesday December 1.
Objectors fear health problems like those reported by people living around a similar scheme in Ealing and argue thousands of new residents will stretch public services to breaking point.
However, councillors sought to reassure residents that building work will not be allowed to go ahead until the council and the Environment Agency were sure it was safe.
The scheme will deliver 158 affordable homes, over two acres of public space, pedestrian and cycle routes, a 50-space nursery and more than £7million for local services.
Speaking at the planning committee meeting, Community before Construction member Ben Copsey said: “This development threatens a significant and long-lasting harm to human health.
“The environmental impact of this site cannot be overstressed and there are serious risks of long-term contamination of groundwater by carcinogenic, poisonous and volatile compounds.”
He claimed these dangerous compounds in the soil are “likely to become airborne if this site is developed as proposed”.
Those living near Berkeley Group’s development on a Southall gasworks claim they have suffered foul smells and persistent ill health as a result of building work.
Lesley Ewen begged the committee to vote “in allegiance with the community, not Berkley’s shareholders”.
She said: “We are in favour of new housing developments that meet the desperate need in Waltham Forest but this does not. Berkeley’s products are marketed to foreign investors.
“We will have four to eight years of ongoing construction at the end of the road and three thousand new residents swamping our little community.
“There’s no extra buses, trains, community spaces or sewers. Our sewers are already pumping raw s*** into our back gardens and will be stretched to breaking point.”
Clementina Estate resident Solene asked the council why they were “ignoring Berkeley Group’s disastrous environmental track record” and “disregard for its own commitments”.
She highlighted the petition against the development, signed by more than 1,000 people, which she said demonstrates the community’s “real strength of feeling”.
Cllr Sally Littlejohn (Lab, Cann Hall) said that, while she understood residents’ concerns, she felt the risks were “adequately covered by the conditions” Berkeley Group would have to satisfy.
She said: “I think we can be certain that the buildings will not be built until we are sure it’s safe to do so.
“Our local plan requires us to build 27,000 new homes by 2035, we have to recognise that most of those will be built by profit-making companies.”
Cllr Marie Pye (Lab, Leytonstone) explained to residents that committee members can “only make decisions based on planning rules” set by the Government rather than personal opinion.
She said the scheme was “not (her) favourite”, particularly given all the affordable homes are confined to two separate blocks, separate from market rent homes.
She said: “I do have concerns about this scheme but I do not see any way it does not meet the planning rules.
“I’m concerned the affordable homes will be built first. Our social renters will have to live on a building site for three years, with lorries driving past their front door all day everyday.”
The committee heard contaminated soil will be removed from the site for processing elsewhere in covered trucks and what is left will be tested for further pollutants.
Berkeley Group also proposes to inject activated carbon into the groundwater to soak up any possible contaminants.
Two extra conditions, both proposed by Cllr John Moss (Con, Larkswood), were approved by the committee and imposed on the developers.
These are that marketing for the homes must explain to buyers that it is a car-free development, except for blue badge holders, and two final units cannot be sold until the nursery is open.