Shepway District Council (SDC) purchased the Biggins Wood brownfield site in Cheriton for £1.5 million from Biggins Wood Homes Limited (ultimate owner Ravensbourne Holding Ltd – Luxembourg) on the 21st Dec 2016. In the BNP Paribas Valuation Report at page 19 of the report they value the 10.5 acre site at £1.2 million. It was another purchase made using “urgency powers” by SDC, so was not discussed by full council or in public but rather behind closed doors.
The 10.5 acre site will deliver for SDC, they hope “77 houses with the Council potentially retaining 23 affordable homes to be managed by East Kent Housing, and for the Council to retain the serviced employment land for 54 light industrial units and one office building to secure an ongoing income stream.”
But have they bought a pig in a poke?
In the Geotechnical assessment reports they state that Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, & Lead, were discovered in soil samples taken on the site. Also, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons, asbestos and methane and carbon dioxide.
The testing identified the “following contaminants at levels in excess of critical concentrations for residential end use (ie housing), arsenic, naphthalene, benzo(a)pyrene and petroleum hydrocarbons.”
“The level of contaminants identified are below critical concentrations for a commercial end use.”
The also state that there are known elevated levels of methane and carbon dioxide and a “moderate risk (they use high, moderate and low in the report) is considered to be presented to human health by the level of gases recorded.” Is this a risk which can be sensibly ignored? when both methane and carbon dioxide contribute directly to climate change, according to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The report goes onto say that that the contaminants mentioned above “pose a direct risk to construction workers”
Next to the site is Harcourt Primary School (Cheriton), which has children who are known to suffer from asthma (see page 2). Releasing more methane and more carbon dioxide (by turning the soil the gases escape) into the atmosphere, means that it becomes increasingly more difficult to breathe in warmer weather, thus contributing to more asthma attacks. Is this what SDC wish to do to the children of Harcourt Primary School who are known to suffer from asthma, especially when in 2006 SDC said about children at Harcourt There are many individual children with conditions such as asthma …” (see page B4:8). Why ten years on when there are more children suffering from asthma do SDC wish to contribute to an illness which means “every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack“?
Is this a case of profit before human health and the environment; the the air which we breathe?
In the Bigginswood Development Report C-17-06; which will go before Shepway District Council’s Cabinet on the 31st May agenda item 5, SDC have three options (See 3.1 page 3):
1. Council acting as developer – building houses and employment space for sale or rent.
2. Selling the site in its current state to a private developer to construct the housing units and commercial serviced plots, with a commitment from the Council to acquire a number of housing units (e.g. the 23 affordable units for the HRA plus a number of units from Oportunitas for private market rent). Allow the developer to dispose of the remaining housing units.
3. The Council seeks to ‘de-risk’ the site in order to attract the private sector by managing and funding the remediation costs and by providing services to the whole site, and then selling or licensing the site in a ‘development ready’ state to a developer to build out as described in option 2 above.
This detailed options work will give a more detailed understanding prior to the delivery decision being made by Cabinet.
So SDC readily admit the site is risky, as why would you need to “de-risk” if it wasn’t so? Also why would SDC want to be a developer when it has NO experience of this whatsoever and always outsources this type of work? And if they sell the site on to a developer, will they get the £1.5 million back, what with the known risks to the site and the costs associated with them?
Are these risks which can be sensibly ignored or not? Especially when there are risks to children who suffer from asthma within metres of the site, when there are risks to construction workers and risks to water. We personally think not, but we’ll leave you to decide whether or not SDC have bought a pig in a poke.
The Shepwayvox Team