Friday, 9 April 2010

Urgent Ward Meeting

On Thursday afternoon the three Lib Dem North Road ward councillors held an urgent meeting with officers from Darlington Children's Services Department concerning industrial contamination on the site of the new Northwood School playing fields in our ward.

We only very recently discovered that a problem existed when, on a ward walkabout, we noticed that the level of the new school playing fields being constructed on the site of the old North Road School was considerably higher than the surrounding area. We asked the site supervisor about this and were told it was to seal in chemical waste which had been found on the site.

We requested an urgent meeting with Children's Services. Having listened to their explanation we are re-assured that the contaminated soil has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the Environmental Health Department, though we are not happy that, as elected ward councillors charged with representing the interests of our constituents, we only discovered this from workmen on the site.

We have asked to be provided with a full analysis of the contamination on the site, since we were not provided with this during our meeting. At the time of writing, this has not been provided.

It seems that there is contamination of the soil on the site of the new school over the road, at "fairly low levels". This has been dealt with by capping with a layer of topsoil.
However, unexpectedly, it was discovered during the demolition of the old school to make way for the new playing fields, that there was contamination on that site of up to 100 times the levels found across the road. These levels of chemicals, including dioxines, were found to be at levels which are potentially harmful to human health.
It seems most likely that, when the school was built in 1906, waste from slag heaps was used as a foundation for the buildings. Since then it has been safely sealed in beneath the school buildings and tarmac playgrounds. Officers stress that, because the contamination was sealed in beneath concrete and tarmac, there has been no risk to peoples' health.

The cost of removing and disposing of the huge amount of contaminated soil could have run up to £780,000! Careful analysis and consultation with the Environment Agency, Sport England and the Environmental Health Department was undertaken and a more cost-effective method of dealing with the problem was agreed.

The contaminated soil has been left in place. Then a geotextile membrane has been laid, on top of which is laid a thick layer of crushed stone. Then another geotextile membrane will be laid before the whole lot is covered with a thick layer of topsoil. All the agencies concerned are confident that these measures will seal the contaminants.

As ward councillors we believe we should have been informed about this as soon as the problem was discovered. After all, it can only be a matter of time before a parent asks why the playing fields are several feet higher than the surrounding area - just like we did.

Officers are content that this information may be made public. We have been assured that we will be kept informed about any future developments and officers have admitted that they have learnt from this episode that, in future during development projects, ward councillors will be kept in the loop at all times, especially where problems arise that directly affect their constituents.

As Liberal Democrats we believe in openness and transparency. As ward councillors we believe it is our duty to ensure that officers keep us informed about things which affect local residents. We have decided, therefore, that this information should be made public.

Although, as far as the Council is aware, the slag heap waste was spread only over the site of North Road School, we have asked the Council to test samples of soil in the surroundings areas too.

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