On Thursday (24 November) the Darlington full council meeting rejected a proposal to take part in a joint Tees Valley scrutiny panel to investigate the cause of the North East sea-life die-off that has occurred over the past year. But the other four towns of the Tees Valley are already committed to the panel and will proceed with their combined probe.
In October last year thousands of dead and dying sea creatures – mostly crabs and lobsters- washed up on the beaches of the North East and North Yorkshire. The local fishermen encountered stretches of barren sea and suffered a drastic fall in their catch. An investigation by the government Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) blamed an algal bloom; scientists commissioned by the fishery industry concluded that the culprit was pyridine.
Many suspect this industrial chemical could have originated from dredging near the clean-up operation of the 4,500-acre former SSI steelworks site – destined to be part of the new Teesside Freeport.
In response to recommendations following a parliamentary hearing in October held by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the government has agreed to an independent inquiry into the causes of the die-off.
Joint Tees Valley councils’ scrutiny panel
The idea of a joint Tees Valley councils’ scrutiny panel on the issue was initiated by councillors at Redcar and Cleveland Council. The proposer of the original motion there was Labour councillor Carl Quartermain, with the seconder Cllr Philip Thompson, a formerly Conservative Independent.
Cllr Quartermain told North East Bylines:
“I’m very disappointed and saddened that Darlington Council have decided not to join our Tees Valley wide working party regarding the crustacean deaths. Teesside’s coastal area is Darlington’s too and this decision shows a total disregard and complete lack of interest in not only the health of the sea, the environment and marine life here but also to their own coastline.
“It is extremely important that we get to the bottom of this issue and support the new investigation announced by the government on 15 November 2022 and that’s what we plan to do. “
He hopes the first meeting of the joint committee will take place before the Christmas break.
In Hartlepool, following the Redcar motion, a proposal tabled by the entire Labour Group won a unanimous vote. Stockton opted in favour after requesting further information. The Middlesbrough motion from Labour councillors won a comfortable majority with the support of Independents.
The Darlington proposal was tabled by Green councillor Bryony Holroyd who has a PhD in Environmental Analytical Chemistry and previously worked at Cefas, Defra’s environmental research agency. The motion, seconded by Labour councillor Mary Layton, won Labour and LibDem support but faced a bloc vote against from the Tories. Conservative councillor Rachel Mills spoke to oppose the motion but failed to declare an interest at the beginning of the meeting or in that agenda item. She is policy advisor to Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, architect of the Teesside Freeport idea.
Meanwhile on the grassroots front, on Saturday 19 November the Facebook group Reclaim The Sea held a night-time light-wave demonstration on Saltburn Pier, calling for dredging to be paused until the cause of the die-off is established.
Accident at Freeport site
The Darlington vote came the day after an accident at the Freeport site. At South Bank Quay, an excavator toppled into the Tees with the driver inside. A witness told Teesside Live that the operator was underwater for nearly a minute but managed to find an airlock and struggle out of his cabin. He was taken to hospital with head and hand injuries, and later discharged.