Waste firm's fears for children when families move into homes near toxic material
Children set to move into homes next to a toxic site could play closer to hazardous material than the waste company allows its own staff, it has been claimed.
Almost half of the 111 homes built by Galliford Try on land in Walkmill Lane, Cannock, have remained unoccupied after concerns over their close proximity to the site of waste management firm Axil Integrated Services.
The 48 homes are among 55 owned by housing association Walsall Housing Group, with the remainder, which are not affordable housing, already bought and occupied.
Now Cannock Chase District Council’s cabinet has agreed to nominate people on the council’s housing list to fill the 48 homes, but only after risk mitigation measures such as a 13 feet-high ‘heat shield’ are installed, costing £395,000.
Whg has confirmed that – subject to planning permission – the heat shield and sprinklers will be fitted to the 29 homes including an apartment block.
Two car parking spaces along the boundary with Axil will be removed to reduce the fire risk, while access to the apartment block will also now be gated.
But Axil – which processes up to 100,000 tons of high-risk substances a year next door to the homes – has said the only way to remove the risk altogether would be to leave the homes empty or move the waste site, at a cost of £2 million.
Edward Pigg, Axil's managing director, said: “We have always had significant concerns about a situation where homeowners could live and children could play closer to hazardous, toxic and flammable wastes than we would allow our own staff but those risks have been ignored by the council, the developer Galliford Try and Walsall Housing Group.
"We have repeatedly reminded them that while our good management of the site means the likelihood of something happening might be low the consequences of an accident would be high.
“The council, Galliford Try and whg want to put in some mitigation measures. However, we believe that will not remove the risk to residents, which could be substantial. "
The fire service will have to brief each potential resident about risks of living in the homes, which Mr Pigg has labelled "disturbing".
"It is disturbing that the council says that it recommends that before any resident moves in that they should be briefed on the risks of doing so by the fire and rescue service," he added.
“We feel that it would be better to remove the risk altogether either by not occupying the homes or helping us to relocate our operations.
"In a background report to the council it is shocking to learn in a letter from Gary Fulford, chief executive officer of the Walsall Housing Group to the council, that the group’s board has an 'agreed appetite for risk in relation to health and safety'.
"Axil most definitely does not share that attitude particularly in a week when the whole nation remembers the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower."
Safety is housing group's 'number one priority'
Whg has defended the move to nominate families for homes next to a toxic waste management site.
Gary Fulford, whg chief executive, said the safety of customers was the housing group's "number one priority".
“Once we were made aware of concerns raised by Axil Integrated Services (formerly Augean) we took the decision not to let these homes until we understood the issues in full," he said.
“We have since discussed the safety concerns in depth with Cannock Chase District Council, the developer Galliford Try Partnerships, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Environment Agency and of course Axil themselves.
“In addition to this, we have sourced considerable independent challenge and specialist advice to give our board assurance and to enable them to fully understand the picture of risk, its likelihood and opportunities for mitigation.
“A key element of this assurance was gained from Axil’s explicit confirmation and sharing of evidence that they run a safe and fully compliant operation, which in turn has been supported by the HSE.
“All of this work mean families will soon be able to live in these affordable, new and most importantly, safe homes.”
A spokesman for developer Galliford Try added: "All the relevant regulatory authorities, including the Environment Agency, were consulted before consent was given for these homes to be built.
"It is the evidence-based opinion of these regulatory authorities in the planning process that is key.
"There are many housing developments built in proximity to highly regulated and well managed waste management sites in the UK. We have no reason to believe that the Axil site does not conform to these criteria."
Tony McGovern, managing director of Cannock Chase Council said the move was a "significant step forward" for the development.
"We are grateful for the support of our partners, and particularly to Walsall Housing Group in supporting the range of measures designed to provide a sustainable way forward and allow occupation of the vacant dwellings."
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