Lord Houchen of High Leven aka Ben Houchen, Metropolitan Mayor of Tees Valley, has been shouting to the rooftops of social media about the rapid progress at the Teesworks site, and the 1,000 jobs already created there in demolition and construction.
The derelict former steelworks at Redcar, future heart of the flagship Teesside Freeport, is heavily polluted and requires unprecedented decontamination before it can be repurposed. The cost of remediation according to Houchen himself is £482mn.
Park and ride facility
One part of Teesworks’ 2,600 acres is destined to be a Park and Ride facility for 1,294 cars near the Trunk Road and Steel House Gate. Next to Coatham Marsh Nature Reserve, the facility will eat into the Green Wedge, a piece of wild land that acts as a green buffer between developments.
Clearance of trees on the site, known to be nesting locations for rare birds, took place illegally during the nesting season between March and August last year.
Now more work, this time on the site’s open land, has been observed by members of the public who use a public-access footpath that crosses the location.
Workers in white HazChem overalls and masks were seen picking out material from the ground and placing it in plastic sample bags.
Black diggers were piling what looked like slag onto the topsoil.
Numerous environmental reports on the Teesworks land have warned that the slag in the area is a legacy waste product of the iron and steel industry and is contaminated with asbestos.
Our witness told us:
“The banks and humps are slag covered in top soil but when they excavated a few weeks ago the top soil got buried.
“Roughly where all the activity is now there was a blast furnace and wooden cooling tower until the early sixties, we used to play there as kids.”
Our representative paid a visit to the site. You can see his images here. Signage on the black diggers includes: “GRP.. grpcontractors.co.uk .ASBESTOS SURVEYS REMOVAL”.
A worker explained to our volunteer that they were digging 16 sample holes to test for asbestos. The team is working directly for Savana Environmental, he said.
However the ultimate contractors will be Tees Valley Combined Authority or its subsidiary South Tees Development Corporation.
The Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council Regulatory Committee approved the Park and Ride planning application in March this year
The approval was under R/2022/0816/FFM “Formation of hardstanding, buildings, access from A1085 Trunk Road, associated facilities and landscaping works in
association with the creation of a park and ride facility land to the east former Steel House and north of A1075 Trunk Road Redcar.”
A condition of that planning approval was:
“An investigation and risk assessment, in addition to any assessment provided with the planning application, must be completed in accordance with a scheme to assess the nature and extent of any contamination on the site, whether or not it originates on the site.”
There’s also a condition to cover unexpected evidence of contamination:
“In the event that contamination is found at any time when carrying out the approved development that was not previously identified it must be reported in writing immediately to the Local Planning Authority.”
However, the suspicion of asbestos can hardly be new given the site’s history.
There’s also the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which requires employers:
“to identify the presence of asbestos and its type and condition before any building, maintenance, demolition or other work, liable to disturb asbestos, begins.”
As our witness saw men at work on the site “a few weeks ago” we are confident that clearance operations there began before asbestos testing that was observed at the end of August.. This is illegal under the 2012 regulations, as well as a breach of the planning approval condition.
Work at the location has been going on for even longer, starting with large mobile solar floodlights at the edge of the site.
And if we include the land clearance and tree felling last year, asbestos testing should have been done by summer 2022.
A planning application was lodged with Redcar and Cleveland Council last year to conduct a range of contamination tests on the site. Those test scrapings included a screen for asbestos. Yet asbestos is so toxic that the test for it should have been done before any other activity, according to the regulations.
A drilling rig appeared on the site on the morning of 5 September.
We have approached Tees Valley Combined Authority which handles media relations for STDC and Teesworks Ltd, with the following questions:
1. Why were the asbestos tests not done prior to the planning application, given the knowledge of contamination throughout the Teesworks site?
2. While the staff collecting samples were in Haz Chem suits and masks, how many of the 1,000 workers on the Teesworks site could have been exposed to toxic asbestos dust?
3. Our representative was able to walk up to the sample locations which are within a public-access area outside the security fence. At the invitation of a site worker he untied a 1-1.5 metre cable across the entrance to exit the path.
Why were there no warning signs or footpath diversions to protect members of the public from lethal asbestos dust?
One particle of asbestos in the lung can cause terminal cancer in the form of mesothelioma.
Update 6 September
This morning a small white van with two men was observed near the drilling rig on the marsh. One of the men was in safety overalls plus a hard hat. The other one was stripped to his vest.
Update 7 September
This morning the drilling rig was being set up roughly 50 metres west from the entrance to the marsh, opposite Ennis Road and very close to the trunk road.
A barrier to the entrance to the marsh consisting of six ft high fencing had been erected, but somebody had apparentlty pulled it back.
We await confirmation of Redcar Council’s request that access to the dog walking land from Ennis Road be blocked until the test results are known.