Barnstaple gasworks decision on hold

Councillors decide to defer verdict on contaminated site

A DECISION on controversial redevelopment plans for a former gasworks in Barnstaple has been put on hold for a month.

Following yesterday afternoon’s lively two-hour debate at the Civic Centre in Barnstaple, councillors deferred their verdict on National Grid’s proposals for the Barbican Road site until Wednesday, February 2.

The double application – one for the demolition of existing buildings and site clean-up, and another for outline permission for 21 new two, three and four-bedroom homes – are both being recommended for approval by North Devon Council planning officers.

But members heard a number of impassioned pleas from residents fearful that the decontamination of the one-and-a-half-acre site would have a detrimental effect on their health and moved to help allay their concerns.

While many who spoke were not opposed to the principle of the site being redeveloped, some feared a repeat of an initial clean-up in 2005, which they claimed blighted their summer with dust, noise and foul smells.

Resident Jane Gould said that five-and-a-half years ago, she awoke to a “horror story” unfolding beyond her garden wall.

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“Without any warning, men in chemical suits began setting up decontamination tents and removing asbestos as part of the clear-up exercise,” she said.

“Flat bed lorries left the site uncovered despite carrying toxic materials and the dust was swept up by a man with a broom.

“We were told it was all within the legal limits but for three summer months we had to keep all our windows and doors shut and couldn’t use our garden. We are now expected to tolerate it all over again.”

Scott Lewis, remediation manager for National Grid, said that while Barnstaple Town Council had recommended that the “clean-up” application be refused due to concerns about the toxicity of the site, both applications had raised no objections from the expert statutory bodies.

“The team involved here has a solid record in safely delivering projects of this kind,” he said.

After listening to the various speakers, Cllr Colin Payne was given a rare round of applause in the council chamber after he suggested the applicant present residents with all the information about the decontamination process in a language they could understand before the committee reconvened for a decision.

He said: “The people who spoke today were not objectors but four or five frightened people who are scared about what is going to happen.

“They have had problems before and no-one listened to them. They didn’t have their concerns addressed then and that is the reason why we hear their concerns now.

“They need to have confidence that we will deliver what we say and that the applicant abides by their promises.”

Cllr Albert Cook reiterated Cllr Payne’s call for a “non-technical summary in plain English”.

“We want belt and braces on black and white so we can see exactly what is going to happen,” he said.

Councillors agreed to re-examine the plans after the applicant agrees a more robust set of conditions for the clean-up exercise with a small “focus team” comprising a residents’ spokesperson, ward member and council planning officer.

For the full story, read next week’s North Devon Gazette.

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