Plans to develop highly contaminated site in Greenwich cause concern among local residents
A site in the West Greenwich area of London that it’s proposed will be home to accommodation for adults with learning difficulties is the subject of local dismay over high level of pollutants in the ground – with many questioning the health risks that could arise from construction work.
The anticipated site for the new housing is located on top of a six-metre deep railway cutting, pointing to its historical use by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. By the early 1930s, the cutting had been filled in with rubble, which an undated survey indicates “may include concrete, iron, wood, tiles, asbestos, car-tyres, vegetation etc”.
After completion of the filling-in operation, the site came to be used by scrap metal dealers and transport contractors, and later served as a car park for the nearby Met Police station.
The site then passed into the hands of residents, who established a community garden there. However, this was demolished in 2019 due to council plans to replace the existing Ashburnham Grove housing facility.
Concerns about pollutants in the soil at longstanding site
In January last year, consulting engineers undertook a geoenvironmental report for Greenwich Borough Council, and discovered above-acceptable levels of pollution on the site.
Two of the 13 tested samples from the site, for instance, were found to contain asbestos. At just half a metre deep, there was also 2260mg/kg of lead present in the ground, which is 10 times Defra’s screening standard. Furthermore, 67mg/kg of arsenic was found at the same depth, which is twice the permitted screening standard.
Meanwhile, the harmful PAH, benzo(a)pyrene, was found to be present at nearly five times the allowed screening standard at 3.8 metres deep. Defra has stated that the International Agency for Research on Cancer currently considers this to be the most carcinogenic PAH.
Also subject to analysis was the site’s potential groundwater risk. As a consequence of this, it was discovered that the lead contamination of the site was more than 300 times the safe level set out by the UK Drinking Water Standards (DWS). Arsenic and mercury were also found to be above DWS limits.
The report outlined dangers to the safety of site users, site workers and nearby residents alike.
What steps has the local council taken?
Planning applications for larger housing had been refused on two occasions before – in 2013 and in 2017 – before Greenwich Borough Council made a successful application for planning permission in March 2020. The plans were granted approval in June 2020.
The approved proposals will involve the construction of a house for four adults and four one-bedroom flats, in addition to a training office with a bedroom for staff. Construction is set to commence in May, with an expected completion date of March 2022.
Local residents, who preferred not to be named, commented: “I’ve always loved Greenwich, but this has been really stressful and is turning us off completely. We’ve been fighting this for seven years, meeting with everyone around here.”
A spokesperson for Greenwich Borough Council, however, stated: “Our environmental consultants are formulating a strategy to deal with the environmental elements of the project. This will include a remediation strategy which will take into account the health and safety of all surrounding residents, as well as future residents of the scheme.
“Once the remediation strategy has been finalised, it will need to be signed off by Royal Greenwich as complete and posing no harm to future residents.”
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