New homes plan for contaminated landfill site described as a ‘toxic timebomb’

A contaminated landfill on the edge of Redbridge is set to become the site of hundreds of new homes.

Land at Billet Road, on the border with Barking and Dagenham, was taken off the green belt register four years ago and earmarked for “around 800” homes.

However, its use as a landfill in the 1970s has left a range of unknown “industrial, domestic and potentially clinical wastes” underground with “elevated concentrations” of toxins.

Laboratory analyses of 43 soil and ground samples found potentially cancerous chemicals, as well as asbestos and lead.

An application submitted by landowner and developer Bellway sets out a plan to stabilise the land for construction using “rapid compaction techniques”, then adding a “capping layer” of up to 2.3 metres of soil.

Potentially dangerous landfill materials would be contained with an “inground barrier” and vertical drains to stop hazardous fluids from seeping into the surrounding soil.

A “membrane layer” will also be added to stop gases from rising above the ground.

Vanessa Cole, 66, chair of local residents’ group Aldborough Hatch Defence Association (AHDA), compared “rapid compaction” to cutting an overfilled sandwich, which some residents fear will spill out pollution.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “They’ve done those soil tests without any pressing down on it… so when they do press down on it what’s going to come out into the containers and filters, and how much of it?

“I could find no details in the application of how they are going to monitor it and whether it is going to be monitored 24/7.

Discoloured water in a ditch close to the site

“If you’ve got this pressure on top of a layer of crap, it ain’t going to stop oozing out because you’ve clocked off for the evening, is it?”

A report on the appearance of the soil when holes were dug for sampling describes “strong hydrocarbon odours” and decomposed organic matter.

However, while planning documents estimate that “approximately 10% of arisings” from the ground would be hazardous, excavating and treating soils would not be “feasible or cost-effective”.

Covering the ground with metres of extra soil is expected to require 60-100 lorries a day visiting the site.

Ms Cole, a former Conservative councillor for Aldborough, said former landowner Redbridge Council licensed a “now-defunct” company to use it as landfill in the 1960s and 70s.

She added: “Asbestos, white goods, you name it it probably went in there, as well as household rubbish.

“Bellway’s own geological and environment report states there’s arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium, chromium – which is the Erin Brockovich stuff – as well as everything else.”

A spokesperson for Redbridge declined to comment directly on the plans, but confirmed that it owns nearby land which could be developed.

The council has also been asked to confirm what environmental or safety responsibilities it has but had not responded at the time of publication.

Ms Cole said AHDA members are not against developing the site but want “peace of mind” that it won’t become a “toxic nightmare”.

She added: “If I go to the dentist for a rotten tooth, they don’t put a filling over top of it, they take out the rot and then redo it.”

Moazzem Hossain, whose Marks Gate home directly adjoins the site, said he represents more than 40 Barking and Dagenham residents who are also worried about the plans.

He said: “I don’t know how they are going to protect us… there are many issues we’re not sure about.

“This is not a normal development project, this is contaminated land which was unregulated – nobody knows what is in there.”

Conservative group leader for Redbridge, Councillor Paul Canal said he is “deeply concerned” about the plans, which he called a “toxic timebomb”.

He added: “Contaminated land is just that – contaminated – and the report admits that risks can only be reduced, not eliminated.

“Landfill sites, especially old sites where controls were minimal or absent, should not be used for housing, especially housing for vulnerable or marginalised groups.

Images from planning documents submitted by Bellway show what was found when soil samples were taken

“That the application has got this fair is deeply concerning. Someone in planning has dropped the ball and put the public at risk.”

Bellway was repeatedly contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

Vanessa said that despite residents’ concerns none of her local councillors have attended their meetings, although one councillor from neighbouring Barking and Dagenham did.

Ward councillors John Howard, Jyotsana Islam and Lebo Phakoe have not responded to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Barking and Dagenham Council confirmed that they have written to Redbridge Council about Bellway’s plans but declined to reveal their comments.

Members of public can comment on the application until December 14 though Redbridge council’s website by searching planning reference 3376/22.

*Following the publication of this article online, Redbridge Council issued a statement suggesting that Cllr Canal had “misunderstood national planning guidance” on contaminated land sites, such as Billet Road.

They added: “It is common practice throughout the UK for contaminated land to be made safe and then safely developed for new homes.

“National Planning Guidance (the NPPF) issued by the government directs any new development to previously developed land, also known as brownfield land, the majority of which is usually contaminated in some way.

“The current application by Bellway Homes is being assessed thoroughly by our Environmental Health Team. The necessary work to decontaminate the land will need to be carried out, assuming planning permission is granted.

“The site forms part of a wider area, subject to a Masterplan drafted by Bellway Homes for 1,300 new and affordable homes.

“Bellway Homes will be consulting residents, businesses and other community organisations to ask for their views in the coming weeks.”

“Due to years of massive underinvestment by the government in social housing, Redbridge – like the rest of London – has a chronic shortage of affordable homes.

“Work is underway to undo those years of near-enough zero housing development and deliver affordable homes for those needing them.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter