The High Court has opened the way for a controversial housing development on a former industrial site – despite objectors' fears that the soil may be contaminated with anthrax spores and other toxic materials which pose a serious risk to public health.
The site was, from the Victorian era, home to a factory making glue from animal bones and, subsequently, a chemical works. However, the local authority ruled that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was not required before it granted planning consent for the 39-home development.
Objectors mounted a judicial review challenge on the basis that contamination of the site was 'sufficiently serious and poorly understood' to make an EIA mandatory. There was no guarantee that remediation works would be effective because the sources of the contamination, and its full extent, 'were not known'.
However, the council’s principal planning officer had reported that 'intrusive site investigations' had not uncovered any evidence of anthrax contamination. His conclusion was backed up by an expert who said that the risk of hazardous concentrations of anthrax spores lurking below the surface was 'minimal'.
In dismissing the challenge, the Court noted that the Environment Agency had no objections to the development, so long as a thorough 'remediation strategy' was carried out. That would include stripping off the site's topsoil and 'capping' the earth underneath before putting the topsoil back again after it had been checked for contamination.
The planning officer had given 'specific attention' to the contamination risk, which he was well qualified to assess, and he was entitled to conclude that any localised environmental effects would be insignificant and 'could be successfully mitigated'.