In October I wrote about the success of the Lordswood Against Asbestos Action Group in persuading their local council, Medway Council, to reject a planning application made by the company, Asbestos First Limited, to use a former gritting lorry storage depot as an asbestos waste transfer station.
As I pointed out in my original post, the fight might not be over, and I was correct in this warning, as an appeal was made by the company to the Planning Inspectorate.
This week the Planning Inspectorate decided to accept the appeal and allow the applicants plan to change the depots use in order to store asbestos.
As many of us who campaign on asbestos issues know only too well, when it comes to asbestos related matters, there tends to be one step forward with positive news, and one step back when negative news arrives.
In this instance should the Planning Inspector be blamed? No, I would place the blame at the door of a government who continually fail to deliver on their promises.
In November 2011, the Department for Communities and Local Government published guidance on one of the government’s flagship pieces of legislation, the Localism Act. In the guide it states,
‘Instead of local people being told what to do, the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live.’
The people of Lordswood spoke out in a very clear way – but they obviously had no ultimate influence in what takes place in their community.
The Planning Inspector at paragraph 5 of his decision, mentioned that there already exist in Kent sites to receive asbestos, but because they operate on a minimum charge basis it is according to the Planning Inspector uneconomic to dispose of small quantities of asbestos, and therefore the application is based upon the collection of small amounts of asbestos that will be stored until a sufficiently large enough quantity is collected that can economically be transferred to landfill sites. This is another example of the failure of government policy as regards asbestos that additional links in the asbestos disposal chain have to be created, thereby increasing the overall risk levels.
The Planning Inspector seemed strongly influenced by the fact that the applicant was already licensed by the HSE. From my personal experience of the HSE, they simply cannot be relied upon where asbestos is concerned.
At paragraph 9 of his decision, the Inspector states,
‘the operation of the site subject to an Environmental Permit would ensure that there would be strict controls to minimise the risk of asbestos containing material escaping into the environment.’
I find it quite astonishing that he speaks of the controls minimising the risk of escape. There needs to be no risk whatsoever to the local residents – if there is any risk then this appeal should have been dismissed.
The Inspector concludes at paragraph 11 by stating,
‘the requirement for an Environmental Permit would ensure that there would be no material harm to human health.’
What does he mean by no material harm? It suggests some harm is possible. The inclusion of the word material points to this. Where asbestos is concerned arguably there is no half way house.
I commend the Lordswood Action Group for the fight they have put up, but they have been let down by a government who have failed to deliver on their promises. I hope the Action Group continue the fight, demanding effective representation on any oversight body considering the working of the site, and that they also demand regular air and ground sample monitoring takes place.