Plans to prepare “toxic” landfill site for hundreds of homes approved

Plans to prepare a “toxic” landfill site for hundreds of new homes have been approved despite ongoing safety concerns.

The site at Billet Road, on the border of Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham, was an “unlicensed tip” in the 1970s that now contains a range of unknown “industrial, domestic and potentially clinical wastes”.

Laboratory analysis of 43 soil and ground samples has uncovered potentially cancerous chemicals and materials such as asbestos and lead.

Last week, a Redbridge Council planning committee approved developer Bellway’s Homes’ application to carry out more than three years of “enabling works” to prepare the land for 1,300 new homes.

The works will involve “compacting” the underground landfill with six metres of soil before leaving a “capping layer” of two metres, which some of the new homes can be built on.

Potentially dangerous substances would be contained by an underground “barrier”, while drains will be added to control the upward flow of gas and liquids.

A barrier along one edge of the landfill is planned to stop pollution flowing into local waterways such as Seven Kings Water, which travels through several local parks before joining the River Roding.

Although the plans now have the council’s approval, Bellway will not be allowed to begin work until the Environment Agency grants it an environmental permit.

Unlike the council’s environmental health team, which raised no objections, the national government body has insisted the developer apply for a permit due to concerns about “gas emissions” and “associated pollution risks”.

Redbridge Council’s planning department recommended approving the application, with development manager Richard McAllister arguing that the current plans, which involve importing soil through 30,000 lorry journeys, would be “broadly the least disruptive” option.

In a written report to the committee, the planning team said the site has been designated for housing in the council’s Local Plan and that the alternative solution – removing the contaminated waste – would not be practical.

Redbridge’s repeated failure to meet government housing targets of more than 1,000 new homes per year means it is subject to a punishing rule removing some of its powers to reject residential planning applications.

The planning team concluded that capping the landfill would be “essential” to build homes on the land.

It denied any “substantial harm” will come from the plans, which would only have “acceptable and necessary” environmental impacts.

However, chair of local residents’ group Aldborough Hatch Defence Association (AHDA) Vanessa Cole has raised concerns about toxic “Erin Brockovich” chemicals including arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium and chromium.

Vanessa previously compared Bellway’s compaction and capping technique to “squeezing an overfilled sandwich”.

She added: “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?”

Conditions imposed before Bellway can add the capping soil require a ground gas and vapour monitoring programme with further risk assessments based on the findings.

If there is an “unacceptable” risk from gas, the developer will have to submit another “detailed remediation scheme”.

Bellway will also have to submit plans detailing how it will collect and treat polluted water from the drains before they can be installed.

Deliveries of soil – expected to be 14 per hour in the first year – will be controlled by a “strict booking system” and limited to 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Following the meeting, the ADHA group said it was “disappointed” by the outcome but would continue to monitor the plans.

Agent for Bellway Homes Kieran Wheeler “respectfully” requested the committee approve the proposals, arguing they are “acceptable in planning terms”.

He added: “The option to remove all of the contamination from the site has been discounted on safety and environmental grounds.

“Bellway has agreed to the proposal where the proposed works will be covered by an environmental permit.

“This will ensure strict controls and ongoing monitoring, which will add that extra layer of scrutiny, but we will start the permit application process as soon as permission has been granted.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter