In 2005 two giant 4m earth bunds were constructed at Delapre Abbey, Northampton, to prevent illegal traveller encampments and joyriders using the parkland for their own purposes. The bunds were not welcome by local residents who wanted a less visually restrictive measure to be used to stop vehicles entering the site. Log posts maybe? or a fence? or railings? Anything but a 4m earth bund restricting the views across the historic gardens and battlefield at Delapre.
The then Tory Council at the Guildhall went ahead regardless. A local haulage company who had been involved in building many similar bunds across the town were engaged to carry out the works and the bunds were erected. Local Residents fought the plans to no avail. Two of those local residents Pam and Paul Varnsverry cut their political teeth on the issue, Pam even handcuffed herself to the gates to prevent the lorries entering the site and they both launched their local Government careers on the issue.
It was no surprise then that the Lib Dem manifesto for the 2007 NBC election contained a pledge to remove the bund, and Planning permission was granted very quickly to enable it's removal. but who would take it away and who would pay for these works?
Then to pour oil (literally) on troubled waters 3 individuals who had worked in different capacities for the company carrying out the works came forward to the Council and signed written affidavits to the effect that the bunds were constructed illegally with contaminated material. Christopher Merry a driver for the firm told the Borough Solicitors department that he took contaminated soil from the Express Lifts site in Northampton which probably contained diesel, cyanide and oil to be mixed with clean soil at the yard of the company and then take the contaminated material to Delapre Abbey for dumping into the bund. Thomas Ryan who was part of the team constructing the bund at Delapre signed his statement to say he witnessed contaminated soil from Mainline Construction, Telford Way Kettering and from the railway yards at Bletchley being tipped at Delapre for the use of constructing the bund. he said that whilst levelling off the soil on the bund he noticed that it was a dark blue colour. A third employee of the firm, Richard Gent also offered to sign a statement but the council said it would not be necessary.
As the cost of dumping a lorry load of contaminated material can be anything unto £700 or more the temptation to dump it elsewhere at nil cost or for a no questions asked lesser cash in hand sum is great.
Despite all this potential evidence, and the Councils statutory responsibility to prosecute polluters, and make them pay for their crimes, no action has been taken against The company by NBC.
Cllrs Varnsverry (plural) now intend to stand for election in the newly formed Delapre Ward in May, and unfortunately for them after their previous involvement and with them being part of a Lib Dem administration who promised to remove the bund, it is still there! Mores the point the original planning application allowing for it's removal has run out of time.
So to enable the local Focus team to repledge themselves to removing the bund a renewal application was submitted to the Planning Committee last night. I attended the meeting to object. Not because I don't want the bund removed, the sooner it is gone the better, but simply because the Council were amazingly trying to give themselves planning permission without mentioning to anyone the probability of the site being contaminated! There was no mention in the Planning officers report of the soil being contaminated at all? No objection from the Environment Agency either? But we discovered last night that they had been told by NBC that the soil was inert! despite the Council knowing otherwise.
The Council had carried out a pointless surface water test at the site a year or so back to try and suggest the area wasn't contaminated, even though they are aware that only a bore hole testing of the bunds can provide the results they need. The waste transfer tickets from the sites contaminated soil were taken from and the tip tickets from Sita in Wellingborough showing lesser volumes weighed and tipped than were collected have never been examined.
So I reminded the committee last night of the information and statements held by the council and asked them why the Council including the Planning Committee wanted to be in breach of the Town and Country Planning Act? the act makes it clear that
"where there is a reason to suspect that a site may be contaminated and there is the possibility that the contamination may affect the proposed development, the applicant will be required to submit reports in support of their planning application"
Now I have no doubt that the bunds are contaminated but the act only requires that "there is reason to suspect that a site MAY be contaminated, and the Council's own advice goes one step further as part of the Northants Contaminated Land Group they inform all potential planning applicants that:
"Where development is proposed on land that may be affected by contamination, a risk assessment should be submitted to the Local Planning Authority for consideration before the application is determined"
So as the applicant why did they (NBC) not mention that the site may be contaminated? And why did the Council as the Planning Authority not insist on upholding the T&C planning act and their own ruling that a risk assessment should be submitted to them before the application was determined? Why were the Environment Agency told the soil was inert when the Council knew otherwise? and why when all this was pointed out to them last night did members of the Planning Committee simply sit on their hands and nod the recommended approval through without insisting on their own planning rules being followed.
More the point why when the Council have evidence of wrongdoing, why is no action being taken to ensure that the contaminated bund is removed by the company who dumped the material there in the first place? after all what ever happened to the doctrine that the "polluter must pay"?
I spoke to other individuals this week who were involved in this whole sorry affair including those above who gave written statements. the Council seem to want to ignore their evidence? They ask what reason the council thinks motivated them to offer to swear under oath to what they witnessed other than to allow the truth to out? during my conversations I was horrified to hear that other bunds across the town were constructed in exactly the same way! In Northampton East including at a local nature reserve, in Wooton Fields and on other sites where bunds were built to deter traveller encampments.
So we have now hit a new all time low. We have a completely toothless Council unwilling to take any action against alleged illegal activity and allow contaminated waste to be dumped by major companies, but remain extra vigilant to issue fixed penalty notices against people dropping cigarette butts.
We have a Planning Department happy to ignore and break it's own planning rules where the applicant is the Council themselves, and then also make themselves culpable in not presenting to outside bodies the truth as to any possible contamination when seeking their comments on their own application.
We have a planning committee who when presented with the facts as above chose not to ask me a single question in clarifying what I had told them and then sat on their hands as officers told them without explanation that nothing was wrong.
And we have a whole community being taken for a ride by being told once again that action is to be taken to remove the bunds when the truth is that no money exists or has been committed to undertake those works and where the body responsible for any alleged contamination is allowed to walk away with no questions asked.
I am often told that NBC is no longer Britain's worst Council, but their inaction, double standards, incompetence and unwillingness to uncover the truth over this matter makes me wonder if it is not just the bunds that have been contaminated?
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