Concerns regarding toxicity on Brighton gasworks site
With a shortage of land on which to build new homes in residential areas, `brownfield’ sites, which were previously used for industrial and transport purposes, are now regarded by national and local government as plausible residential development sites.
For many years these sites have been regarded as too toxic for residential development. Land at the Gasworks in Church Road, Hove, was tested in the late 1980’s and found to be impossible to decontaminate for residential purposes. A Tesco store and large car park were built there instead.
Berkeley Homes, the company interested in developing the Brighton Gasworks site, is involved in 18 gasworks developments at different stages around the country. Since 2017 they have been developing a site in Southall, amid concerns about toxicity. Ealing Council had originally tested the soil and refused to grant planning permission for residential development of the site, but were overruled by Boris Johnson, then London Mayor.
Concerns about the sudden, sometimes terminal, ill-health of residents during the process of treating the soil with chemicals in an open-air `soil hospital’, and about the strong smell of naphthalene permeating the air, have led to a campaign (Campaign for Clean Air in Southall and Hayes) to stop the development, led by Jo Sidhu, a barrister with family connections to the area. Jo Sidhu cites `the abject failure of Berkeley to adequately respond to legitimate grievances’ (Jo Sidhu, QC case statement). Public Health England has stated that the level of naphthalene, a known carcinogen and by-product of coal gas production, is too high. Other elements exposed in the treatment process include cyanide, arsenic and asbestos. It appears that these toxic poisons have particular effects on BAME populations, however as Southall’s population is largely BAME it cannot be assumed that they are the only people likely to suffer ill-health from exposure. See the CASH website for more information, and a film made with the participation of the Green Party, which supports the Southall campaign. https://southallandhayescleanair.org.uk
In Brighton, the Council has historically regarded only the southern part of the Gasworks site, away from the gasholders, to be suitable for a development of `at least 80 houses’. The northern part had contained 7 gasholders, now reduced to 2. Gas was made there until the 1880’s and stored there until the 1980’s. As such, it is acknowledged by Berkeley to be contaminated to an unknown degree. Brighton Council has stated that they have not tested the soil at this site. The land around the gasholders is owned by SGN, and AGHAST is using Freedom of Information procedures to obtain their test results as soon as possible. These have not yet been obtained.
Berkeley have already bought the gasholders and will buy the rest of the land from SGN subject to planning permission being granted. They say that the eventual number of homes, particularly affordable homes, will be determined by the cost of the clean up.
However AGHAST residents have serious concerns that Gasworks in general are not suitable for safe residential development and that these developers are not responsible homebuilders to safely address this site.
At Southall Ealing Council has stated that the nuisance and health issues suffered by local people are of less significance than the need to provide housing.
However the development is still only at the clean-up stage, and is badly affecting peoples’ health. Nationally we have no experience, and therefore no knowledge, of any long-term repercussions for any future residents of such sites. There is a lack of agreed measuring standards for health impacts caused by residential exposure to industrial chemicals.
AGHAST look to Brighton and Hove Council for prioritising the health of its populace and seek urgent scientific assessment by an independent body of the appropriateness of any development at Brighton Gasworks.